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A gubernatorial panel investigating the Virginia Tech shootings has enlisted an international law firm to provide free counsel as it wades through a thicket of legal issues related to its inquiry.

Gov. Tim Kaine's office announced Tuesday that Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP will assist the panel, which Kaine appointed shortly after the April 16 shootings. Two litigation partners from the firm's 300-person Washington, D.C., office will be the lead attorneys responsible for the pro bono work.

Kaine and Attorney General Bob McDonnell agreed on the need for outside counsel to assist the panel, which has confronted an array of difficult legal questions during its first month of work. Among other things, the panel has confronted privacy laws that prevent it from gaining access to gunman Seung-Hui Cho's academic and mental health records.

"The legal questions were more plentiful than any of us anticipated," said the panel's chairman, retired Virginia State Police Superintendent Gerald Massengill.

Spokesmen for Kaine and McDonnell said the reliance on outside counsel makes sense because the attorney general's office already represents Tech, the state police and state mental health agencies. Massengill said he agreed that "independent, outside counsel would be helpful."

Skadden has extensive experience representing special commissions and boards of inquiry, according to the governor's office. The international firm has about 2,000 lawyers in 22 offices around the globe.

"As citizens, and especially as parents, we are pleased that we are able to assist the panel with this very important inquiry," said Michael Rogan, head of Skadden's Washington, D.C., office, in a statement released by the governor's office.

Kaine has asked the panel to produce recommendations before state colleges begin fall semester classes. The panel will hold the third of its four scheduled public meetings Monday at George Mason University in Fairfax County.

The session will include a report on Cho's interactions with the mental health system by the state inspector general.

On the Net: vtreviewpanel.org


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