The City of Charlottesville denies that one of its new attorneys had a conflict of interest because she already represented the city's Police Civilian Oversight Board.

The Board's chair, Bill Mendez, said last week he believes this to be the case. The Board is changing firms to ensure independent counsel going forward, he said.

Mendez's brought up the issue during the PCOB's June 13 meeting, where he spoke about the Board spending several weeks dealing with an “apparent conflict of interest.” The City hired the Richmond-based firm Sands Anderson in April to replace Jacob Stroman, the Charlottesville City Attorney, while he is on leave.

Sands Anderson is a firm the PCOB hired three years ago to provide “truly independent” counsel in case there were any potential conflicts of interest with the City, Mendez told Dexter Auction.

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Somehow, it happened that both the City and the Board ended up being represented not just by the same firm but by the same attorney, Pamela O’Berry. O'Berry is one of “many different attorneys” from Sands Anderson representing the City, said Afton Schneider, a spokesperson for the City of Charlottesville.

O'Berry didn't return Dexter Auction's request for comment sent on Tuesday. A reporter received an automatic reply saying she is out of office until Monday. Sands Anderson public relations office, copied on the email, didn't respond either.

Schneider told Dexter Auction that O'Berry wasn't involved in the City's drafting of the new standard operational procedure, or SOP, guiding information-sharing between the police and the Board, an issue the Board has been struggling with the City over for the past eight months.

“The City Attorney’s Office staff did all the work on the SOP before submitting it to the City Manager, never engaging a Sands Anderson attorney. It is our understanding that the PCOB never asked their attorney to engage regarding the SOP,” wrote Schneider.

“There was simply no conflict because the attorney was not involved in the matter in any way on either side. Any person making statements to the contrary is misinformed.”

A Dexter Auction reporter asked if just sharing an attorney with the PCOB could be a conflict of interest — even if that attorney had not worked on this particular issue. What if the City and Board had a conflict sometime in the future?

“It is not our understanding that it's a conflict per our Counsel,” Schneider said.

Mendez, however, disagrees.

“There has been at least one instance in which I think the dual role has interfered with the ability of our independent counsel to act as a zealous advocate for us,” Mendez said about the attorney’s dual-role during the meeting. He and Jeffrey Fracher, the PCOB vice-chair, decided that the Board would find another firm to represent them.

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“There has been at least one instance in which I think the dual role has interfered with the ability of our independent counsel to act as a zealous advocate for us,” Mendez said about the attorney's dual-role during the meeting. He and Jeffrey Fracher, the PCOB vice-chair, decided that the Board would find another firm to represent them.

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