On Tuesday, litigation counsel Justin Fairfax was elected lieutenant governor of Virginia—setting him up to serve alongside fellow Democrat Ralph Northam, who won Virginia’s gubernatorial race. And another Big Law attorney, Quinn Emanuel’s Jenny Durkan, won her race to become Seattle’s next mayor.
Meanwhile, Venable’s former longtime chairman, James Shea, has his sights set on becoming the next Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland. The state is scheduled to hold primary elections in June before the general election in November 2018.
With his victory on Tuesday, Fairfax became the first African-American to be elected to a statewide office in Virginia since 1989—the year L. Douglas Wilder was elected governor. And Fairfax won alongside Northam after a gubernatorial campaign that some observers described as racially tinged in the wake of the deadly white nationalist rally over the summer in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Virginia governor’s race pitted Northam—the current lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe—against Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, who vowed to preserve Confederate statutes and whose campaign messages focused on themes of law and order and crackdowns on illegal immigration.
In his counsel role at Venable, Fairfax specializes in investigations and white-collar defense, commercial litigation, government affairs and is part of the firm’s state AG practice. He’s also a former federal prosecutor who in 2013 sought the Democratic nomination for Virginia attorney general, before losing narrowly to current AG Mark Herring. The firm welcomed Fairfax’s electoral win in a statement issued Wednesday.
“Justin’s commitment to public service continues a long tradition of Venable’s attorneys entering politics with both major political parties,” said Dan Moylan, co-managing partner of Venable. “We congratulate him on his election.”
As the National Law Journal previously reported, the lieutenant governor’s primary responsibilities involve breaking ties in the Virginia state Senate and stepping in as governor if the office becomes vacant. The lieutenant governor role carries with it a $36,000 annual salary and is usually considered a part-time job.
It is also considered a stepping stone. Fairfax’s win could position him to run for higher office in the future, as Virginia’s governors are limited to one term in office and, as The Associated Press reported, seven of the last 10 lieutenant governors in the state went on to win their political party’s nomination to become a candidate for governor.
Another Virginia election on Tuesday involved a lawyer with Big Law pedigree—McGuireWoods partner and white-collar department head John Adams lost his bid as a Republican candidate to become the state’s attorney general. Adams was bested by the Democrat Herring, an incumbent who secured re-election in the state’s AG race.
Across the country in Seattle, meanwhile, Durkan prevailed in a mayoral election that came on the heels of sexual abuse allegations against the city’s most recently elected mayor, Ed Murray, who resigned in September. Durkan had joined Quinn Emanuel as a partner in 2015 to open its Seattle office.
While Durkan took leave from the firm to mount her mayoral bid, she is still listed on the firm’s website as co-managing partner and as global chair of its cybersecurity and data protection group. A Quinn Emanuel spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday regarding Durkan’s electoral victory.
Prior to Quinn Emanuel, Durkan served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington after a 2009 appointment by former President Barack Obama. In that role, Durkan became the first openly gay lawyer to hold a top federal prosecutor seat in the United States.