Is There Conflict of Interest in the State Senate? Or Is this Just a Cheap Political Shot?

Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, and Sen. Thomas K. Norment, Jr., R-Williamsburg, both work for the Norfolk law firm, Kaufman and Canoles. According to Roanoke attorney David Nixon, both men, who are powerhouses in the state Senate, represent public utilities and government clients who use the power of eminent domain to take property from private citizens and business owners. If they have a vested interest against bills that would curtail the rights of their clients to condemn land, should they be allowed to vote on those bills?

Nixon thinks not. He filed ethics complaints yesterday alleging a conflict of interest, arguing that both men “used their positions and influence … to get themselves appointed to the Eminent Domain subcommittee, where meaningful eminent domain reform legislation is buried year after year.” Eminent domain has been a particularly contentious issue since the Kelo ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which expanded the rights of local governments to condemn land for public purposes.

Nixon contends that “K&C clients could easily construe K&C’s website as promising that the Senators will use their influence in the General Assembly to advance the interests of their clients.”

Here’s how Stolle’s profile reads on the K&C website:

For Kaufman & Canoles, Ken works closely with colleague Tommy Norment — the Senate Majority Leader — in presenting the firm to prospective corporate and governmental clients. He has, over his years in the Senate, developed a vast knowledge of state government and a network of business, government, and law enforcement leaders who respect him and his work.

In addition, he’s experienced in civil, criminal, and administrative litigation as well as in business law, particularly for the hospitality industry. This combination of political know-how, business acumen, and personal relationships, boosts Ken’s value to his clients. Says Ken, simply: “We have the ability to make things happen.”

I am not familiar enough with the General Assembly’s conflict-of-interest guidelines to know if Nixon’s charge has any merit. However, I do not read into the wording of Stolle’s profile what Nixon reads into it. The profile says that Stolle would use his “political know-how, business acument and personal relationships” but that’s a far cry from saying he would influence legislation. The potential for abuse certainly exists, but that’s true for any lawyer-legislator.

Nixon presents no solid evidence in his press release for his charge that Stolle and Norment used their influence to kill eminent domain legislation. They may have, for all I know, but Nixon doesn’t spell it out in his press release. I’m trying to get the details of his complaint. If he offers any substantive evidence, I’ll update the blog.

Update: Here is the Norment complaint and the Stolle complaint.

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3 responses to “Is There Conflict of Interest in the State Senate? Or Is this Just a Cheap Political Shot?”

  1. All lawyers should be prohibited from holding anypublic office that allows them to make laws or regulations. It is a clear conflict of interest.

    How’s that for Fundamental Change?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    And don’t tell Stosch that Norment is claiming to be Majority Leader. Stosch has held the post for years. Norment is the floor manager who runs the agenda during session, but Stosch is the majority leader.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 7:17, Thanks for pointing out the incorrect information. According to Norment’s profile on the Kaufman and Canoles website, he is the “Senate Floor Leader,” not “Majority Leader.”

    I picked up the mistake from David Nixon’s press release, who picked it up as a direct quote from Ken Stolle’s profile page on the Kaufman and Canoles website! See the glaring error here.

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