Norment won't discuss lobbyist relationship

Travis Fain
Contact Reportertfain@dailypress.com
No comment from Norment as Pilot uses letter to out lobbyist relationship

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment wouldn't discuss a newspaper report Friday that had him admitting, via a leaked letter, to a personal relationship with a lobbyist.

The Virginian-Pilot based its report primarily on a six-page letter that it said Norment wrote in response to a Virginia State Bar complaint filed by Christopher John Burruss. Burruss was sentenced this week to two years in federal prison for trying to blackmail Norment, his former attorney, with embarrassing emails and texts.

Some documentation was in evidence against Burruss, but it has not been released. The bar complaint isn't subject to state freedom of information laws, according to bar staff.

Bar spokeswoman Kathryn Montgomery said Friday that she could only confirm that the complaint exists and was dismissed.

According to Burruss' case files, the complaint dealt with what Burruss considered ineffective counsel from Norment during his 2010 trial on DUI and eluding police charges, which ended with a four-year sentence. Burruss also accused the senator of sending inappropriate messages to two of his female friends – something prosecutors and Burruss' attorney agreed to in a fact finding filed earlier this year as part of Burruss' federal blackmail trial.

The Pilot said Burruss mailed Norment's bar complaint response to the newspaper in February, and within it Norment acknowledges not just "inappropriate personal communication" with Burruss' friends, but a relationship with a lobbyist begun as he and his wife were having problems.

The Pilot did not name the lobbyist. The Daily Press has requested documents from Burruss a number of times through one of his former attorneys and his current public defender.

"As you may have surmised, those documents were sent to the Pilot back in February," federal public defender Carolyn Grady wrote in an email Friday. "As he told the court, and I told you, Mr. Burruss is trying to move on past this whole part in his life and does not want any further contact with news media or the documents in question."

Norment, R-James City, is one of the most powerful figures in state government. He is up for re-election this year and is unopposed. He heads the Senate Republican Caucus, and a caucus spokesman declined to comment on behalf of the body Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Democratic Caucus said her caucus wouldn't comment, either.

A pair of Senate Republicans told the Daily Press they have no reason to believe Norment pushed legislation one way or another based on a relationship with a lobbyist. Five others, including Caucus Chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, did not return Daily Press calls on Friday, which was the Good Friday holiday.

A sixth declined to discuss the matter. Norment declined an interview request through a spokesman, as he did repeatedly while the Burruss case worked its way through federal court.

Nothing in Senate rules forbids a physical or emotional relationship with a lobbyist. Neither do state ethics rules, which Norment helped craft during last year's session and again played a major role in rewriting during this year's session, which ended in early March.

Adultery, though, is a misdemeanor under Virginia state law.

In his letter, Norment said a number of personal emails were forwarded to "third parties" by someone in his office, The Pilot reported. It wasn't clear whether that meant a Senate office or law office with Kaufman & Canoles. A firm spokeswoman did not return a Daily Press call seeking comment Friday.

Among the emails was some back-and-forth between Norment and the lobbyist, which Norment acknowledged in his letter, saying he'd been seeing her "personally," The Pilot reported. Norment wrote that he has since reconciled with his wife, sharing with her "some of my misbehaving," The Pilot reported.

Some legislators said Friday that they'd heard rumors of a Norment dalliance. Others said they were surprised by the revelation. State Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said he wanted to talk to Norment, but the whole thing "sounds like a personal matter."

"Far as I know, certainly hasn't affected his job performance," Wagner said.

State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, said the incident seems "a little bit out of character" for Norment.

"I've never seen him reflect a specific bias on a piece of legislation because of any individual who had asked him to put it in," said Watkins, who is retiring this year after 34 years in the General Assembly.

Over his career, Watkins said he'd heard of "maybe a dozen" relationships between legislators and lobbyists, staffers or state agency officials.

"From time to time, yeah, it happens," he said. "We're all human beings."

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

CORRECTION: The above article has been corrected in the third paragraph. The orginal article incorrectly stated that evidence was sealed in the Burruss case. In fact, it was not made part of the court record because the defendant struck a plea deal.

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