IAFF: The Lawyers

Eric Lamar
5 min readSep 9, 2020

Is anyone representing our union?

As the FBI, DOL and U.S. Attorney are investigating our union, various law firms have become involved.

Crucial questions concerning them are front and center.

If the past is prologue, where effective counsel is concerned, IAFF members will be under served.

McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP

The IAFF hasn’t had truly independent legal counsel since 2000, when Schaitberger took over.


Beginning then, Schaitberger and the board contracted out legal affairs to a DC law firm whose name has changed frequently, the current one is McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP.

The IAFF legal counsel must be able to provide advice to the board unconstrained by any association with entities which may conceivably color assessments.

Al Whitehead, Schaitberger’s predecessor as IAFF president, maintained an independent internal legal counsel to advise him.

Al Whitehead

The current IAFF general counsel, our theoretically unbiased attorney, is Doug Steele, a partner in the firm named above.


Steele is a man of several hats, one of which is running interference for Harold Schaitberger to the potential detriment of the IAFF.

In addition to the Steele arrangement, the IAFF throws other business to McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP. Payments pass back and forth between the firm and the IAFF like bets after a dice roll. In 2019, the IAFF paid the firm $3,049,470 but also received $315,814 from them.

McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP also represents IAFF affiliate locals whose interests may diverge from the parent union; but much more likely is that an affiliate’s interests will be subordinated to Schaitberger’s.

In a favorite Schaitberger scenario, his fox is guarding the coop.

The potential for conflicts of interest is automatic and pervasive.

The House Purchase

Schaitberger’s IAFF is built around his relationships with bosom buddies. IAFF members are simply there to fund their fun and schemes.

One of those buddies is James Franzoni, who is Schaitberger’s close friend and recipient of our insurance business.


A number of years ago, Franzoni sold Schaitberger a $1,000,000 swanky property on the coveted eastern shore of Maryland as a weekend getaway.

Schaitberger was subsequently cited by the U.S. DOL for failing to report the deal because of the conflict caused by the existing business relationship.

It was an obvious conflict of interest, and it became even more complicated for the IAFF.

McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP, then with Tom Woodley at the helm, hired the son of James Franzoni to be a staff attorney at the IAFF, reportedly at Schaitberger’s “request.”

More evidence, if you needed it, of cronyism run amok.

When the house purchase became an issue at the IAFF, Woodley said that his law firm could not represent Schaitberger in the matter because of the conflict caused by the hiring of Franzoni’s son.

In effect, the general counsel was unable to fulfill his duties because he was busy keeping Schaitberger happy.

It’s a perfect example of how they do their back-scratching business and it gets still more interesting.

Another law firm was then retained to phony up a so-called ethics review of the matter.

Schaitberger later wrote to the board,

…in executive session at our January board meeting, it was explained by IAFF General Counsel Tom Woodley, under federal law and Labor Department regulations, it should not be necessary for me to file an amended LM-30 report for the year 2010 with regard to my purchase of a 50% interest in certain real estate and related property in that year.

Why was it suddenly OK for Tom Woodley to be offering legal advice on a matter where he was previously conflicted?

Why was it done in executive session?

The Schaitberger/Franzoni/Woodley case is an indication that the law firm is both under the sway of, and ultimately serves the interests of Harold Schaitberger and not the IAFF.

The Wiley Decision

After the federal subpoenas were served to the IAFF, our union was forced to hire a criminal attorney and the process used to choose a firm for the IAFF deserves close scrutiny.

When the matter came before the board, some vice presidents wanted to interview several firms to find the best choice.

Sources say that Doug Steele wished instead to hire Wiley, the firm which was eventually chosen in a 9–8 vote by the board.

Those voting in favor of Wiley are consistent defenders of Schaitberger and his unethical behavior. (Woolbright, Thornberg, Sanders, Rahne, Lima, McGhee, Dix, Burry and Johnson)

Given what we know about McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP and specifically Doug Steele, if he had any part in the choice of Wiley, the decision can be considered tainted and his actions conflicted.

If correct, Wiley is operating under a serious ethical cloud.


The IAFF ethical practices committee hired a law firm, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, several months ago, to assist with their investigation of IAFF misconduct.

To date, they would seem to be the only attorneys actually representing the true interests of IAFF members.

The Schnader mandate is not unlike the federal one, to burrow into the details of unscrupulous and improper activity at the IAFF.

Given all that we know about how Schaitberger operates and the history with Woodley/McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP, ethical and effective legal representation in the current investigation is anything but a given.

The U.S. Department of Justice and Schnader seem to be our only hope, which is irony at its best.


Eric Lamar has been an IAFF member since 1976.