City Manager’s Brother-In-Law Hired as New Roanoke City Attorney

Daniel Callaghan

by Valerie Garner

New City Attorney “Was Not First Choice”

Daniel Callaghan is Roanoke’s new city attorney but it was not a unanimous decision. He is city manager Chris Morrill’s brother-in-law. He starts with the city October 17 with a salary of $150,000.

Callaghan, 57 hails from Manchester, New Hampshire where he is a partner in the law firm of Devine, Millimet & Branch, one of the largest law firms in New Hampshire. The firm has 60 attorneys and 80 staff, with offices in Manchester and Concord. He earned his law degree from Villanova University.

A council member who did not want their name used said the recommendation was not unanimous and that there was “another candidate that was first choice.” When asked if it was the Acting-City Attorney Tim Spencer they confirmed that it was.

Councilman Sherman Lea said he disagreed with the statement. Lea said Callaghan’s ability to work with lobbyists and the legislature set him above everyone else. “It was a close race with many good applicants but this gave him the edge.” He said that it was real interesting the process went but he would not elaborate. “He’s a real classy guy.” Lea said the council will vote once he is approved by the Virginia Bar.

In a phone call with Councilwoman Anita Price, head of the Personnel Committee she said, “It was an exhausting and meticulous process.” All council members interviewed candidates one on one and then as a group said Price.

Colin Baenziger of Baenziger & Associates was the recruiter and the same recruiter that was used in the selection of city manager Chris Morrill.

Mr. Baenziger in an email said, “It was a very difficult recruitment. Prior to my firm being hired, Roanoke HR tried at least once to find candidates. There were not a huge number of well-qualified local government attorneys in the Roanoke Valley who wanted to give up their jobs and move into the City. It is not like the DC area where there is an attorney on every corner. Also, for practical reasons, we needed someone who was licensed to practice in Virginia or who could waive in. Sitting for the Bar exam was simply not feasible. In our research, we discovered that any person who had been admitted to practice before the highest court in the state where they were licensed (i.e., the Supreme Court of the particular state) could waive into Virginia. That helped. 

Once we were hired, in addition to our networking, we advertised once and then re-advertised as we were not overwhelmed with our initial results. We ended up with 33 applicants from all over the United States. 

Mr. Callaghan came to our attention when he responded to our initial advertisement. Prior to his applying Mr. Morrill mentioned that Mr. Callaghan might apply and that he was a very good lawyer. He also mentioned that Mr. Callaghan was his brother-in-law and that might cause some concern or at least raise some eyebrows. That was the only time I spoke with Mr. Morrill about Mr. Callaghan. I think we both knew that if Mr. Callaghan applied it would be a sensitive matter and that Mr. Morrill seemed to feel it would be best if he was not involved in the process in any way. 

Mr. Callaghan applied on March 22nd through the normal application process. I talked to him around that time as our candidate pool was pretty limited at that point – the closing date was April 6th. I was impressed with his credentials and aptitude. He was very up-front about his relationship to Mr. Morrill and said that if that presented any problems, he would withdraw his application. 

When I looked at the applicant pool on April 9th, I decided to re-open the advertising period. We had some very good applicants – such as Mr. Callaghan – but we simply did not have a huge number of very good applicants. We also did not have much diversity in the field. When the second application period closed in early May and we had more well-qualified applicants but still not much diversity. Ultimately we narrowed the field to six strong candidates. 

When the Council reviewed the top candidates, the Council Members were well aware of Mr. Callaghan’s relationship to the City Manager and at least some of them considered it. I think the Council Members ultimately decided to consider Mr. Callaghan on his own merits and if he was the best candidate, then to work through the rest. I also think, if anything, Mr. Callaghan’s relationship to the City Manager was a negative because it would obviously raise some eyebrows if he were the selection. And why raise eyebrows if you can avoid it? Ultimately, though, the Council deemed him to be the best candidate.

Price said that his qualifications were the deciding factor for the majority. “It feels like a good match. He has the honesty and integrity to bring all qualities to the office.” She feels very confident that they made the appropriate decision.

“He would never subject the city to anything that would not be in the best interest of the city,” said Price.  She was certain that Callaghan or Morrill would recuse themselves in a conflict situation and it would be handled in a professional manner. “We didn’t feel that it would become a real issue.”

County attorney Paul Mahoney said, “he looked forward to working with Mr. Callaghan, and to continue to work with Mr. Spencer on issues affecting our community.”

Callaghan, 57, takes the place of William Hackworth who retired in December of 2011 but first he will have to apply to the Virginia Bar. The State of New Hampshire provides reciprocity with the Commonwealth for attorneys and is not required to take the Bar exam said Melinda Mayo the public information coordinator.

Callaghan and his wife Clare, Morrill’s sister will search for a downtown apartment.