Case Closed: Norment, Stolle Cleared of Ethics Charges

Sens. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, and Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, have been cleared of conflict-of-interest charges by the Senate Ethics Advisory Panel.

David Nixon, a Roanoke lawyer and Republican activist had filed a complaint noting that the two prominent lawmakers were employed by Kaufman and Canoles, the leading law firm in Hampton Roads, which represents a number of clients that acquire land through eminent domain. The involvement of Stolle and Norment in shaping eminent domain legislation, Nixon charged, amounted to a conflict of interest.

The panel disagreed — unanimously. Reports Christina Nuckols with the Virginian-Pilot:

“This was a frivolous action that was calculated to try to prevent two senior legislators from voting on an important issue,” Stolle said. Stolle and Norment abstained earlier this year when the Senate voted on eminent domain bills. Stolle said he is not sure that those abstentions affected the final outcome of the legislation.

Nixon’s argument was long on suggestion but short on specifics. (See my previous post, “The Case Against Norment: Suggestive but Not Yet Persuasive.”) The evidence of a conflict of interest did not seem compelling to me when I wrote, and it obviously didn’t seem compelling to the panelists who cleared Norment and Stolle.

However, Nixon probed into relationships that are well worth highlighting. Norment, who has carried water for Dominion on matters of electric deregulation and reregulation, has significant holdings of Dominion stock (valued between $50,000 and $250,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project), and accepted a Dominion invitation to go on a hunting trip in 2001. Furthermore, according to VPAP, he has received $11,800 in campaign contributions from Dominion during the current reporting cycle.

It seems undeniable that Norment is cozy with Virginia’s biggest power company, and also that he was one of the company’s most dependable allies while Dominion was steering legislation potentially worth billions of dollars through the General Assembly. There’s nothing illegal or unethical about his connections, but they are something that voters might want to bear in mind when they consider whom they want representing them.

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4 responses to “Case Closed: Norment, Stolle Cleared of Ethics Charges”

  1. Paul Jost Avatar
    Paul Jost

    Jim…while I agree that Norment’s behavior may not be illegal in Virginia, it is certainly unethical. He is the chairman of the committee that oversees electric dereg and rereg. At the same time he takes hunting trips with Dominion executives, owns a lot of their stock, and accepts large campaign contributions from them. If Norment and his friend were not the ones making the laws, it would be illegal.
    I have also recently heard that his law firm represents Dominion and that Norment’s compensation is enhanced because of that relationship. Norment has refused to confirm or deny this.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Paul, I don’t know if what you heard about Dominion, Kaufman & Canoles and Norment’s compensation is true or not, but it would make an interesting research project for someone: Comb through SCC filings to see how much money Dominion Virginia Power pays to different law firms around the state. (If that info isn’t publicly available, it ought to be.) See how Kaufman and Canoles compares to other high-powered law firms like Hunton & Williams, McGuire Woods, Hazel Thomas, etc.

  3. O. McDonald Avatar
    O. McDonald

    I’m hoping the Republicans in the Virginia Senate Ethics Committee can look into a problem I’ve had with a Fox getting into my hen house, here on the Farm. The Fox says “I didn’t do it” and of course the Hens say he did. Its my understanding that the Fox has many relatives on the Ethics Committee that swear, they will give him a fair hearing, behind closed doors. They’ll be closing the doors, so there will be no misunderstanding about their ruling and besides, it’ll just be those pesky, annoying citizens, who are way too nosy about government functions, that only elected officials understand.

    I’m hoping for a speedy hearing that will clear the air about this Fox in the Henhouse issue on my farm! You can always depend on the Virginia Republicans to keep their promises and act in an ethical principaled manner. Behind closed doors!

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    These guys are unethical and should have abstained from voting. It just goes to show that Virginia still has a long way to go to employ equal rights and access for everybody. The good ole boys are still whooping your asses.

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