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Tommy Norment Gets In Trouble?

By Greg L | 2 September 2011 | Virginia Senate | 5 Comments

Uh oh.  I think Senate Minority leader Tommy Norment has a bit of an ethics problem to deal with.

Attorney General Cuccinelli releases Norment 2008 conflict of interest opinion to clarify the law

RICHMOND (September 2, 2011) - Recent public statements made by state Senator Thomas Norment suggest that for the past several years, he assumed a role of legal counsel for the College of William & Mary. One of his reported statements also incorrectly implied that a 2008 opinion he requested from the Office of the Attorney General affirmed that such an arrangement would be acceptable under the law.

In light of these statements and recent news coverage, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has determined that the opinion is now of general interest to the public. Therefore, the attorney general has advised Sen. Norment that he is publishing the opinion today, pursuant to §30-122(2) of the Code of Virginia. Click here for the July 9, 2008, opinion.

In June 2008, Sen. Norment requested a legal opinion from the attorney general’s office asking if Virginia’s General Assembly Conflicts of Interests Act prohibited him from accepting a position with the College of William & Mary while serving as a senator. In issuing the opinion, it was understood that Sen. Norment’s role would not be that of legal counsel, but only that of professor at the law school and lecturer in the government department.

According to Virginia law, only the attorney general’s office can provide legal advice to state agencies, including state colleges and universities. Then-Attorney General Robert McDonnell’s 2008 opinion stated:

Finally, I affirm the intention that your relationship with the College will not be that of attorney and client. As you know, §2.2-507(A) provides that certain legal services to state agencies, officers, and employees be provided by the Attorney General.

The senator’s public statements have the potential to cause confusion regarding §2.2-507(A) of the Code of Virginia for other colleges, universities, state agencies, and for those with whom they have dealings. The attorney general wants to avoid circumstances in which advice given by lawyers not provided by the attorney general’s office might be subject to public disclosure because it may not be shielded by attorney-client privilege.

Mr. Cuccinelli has stated that the 2008 opinion issued to Sen. Norment is still a correct opinion based on the original set of facts that were provided to this office. However, the attorney general is clarifying that the 2008 opinion affirms that no one other than a member of the Office of the Attorney General can serve in the capacity of legal counsel for a college, university, or other state agency.

Maybe Norment can hire that great defense attorney that failed to keep former Delegate Phil Hamilton out of jail.  By now that guy might know what he’s doing.



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5 Comments

  1. Charles said on 2 Sep 2011 at 8:35 pm:
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    I don’t think it would be Norment’s problem if the school used him for legal services when they were only allowed to use the Attorney General. And the opinion doesn’t suggest there is a legal issue for Norment.

    The opinion is aimed at the schools, reminding them that attorney-client privilege wouldn’t apply if they used other attorneys.

    So the question is, are we supposed to not like Norment? Why the attack on him with this story?

  2. Speckulator said on 3 Sep 2011 at 3:28 pm:
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    To Charles: Yes, it would be Sen. Norment’s problem because the actions violate several rules of the Virginia State Bar. For instance, if he did indeed give legal advice to a client (the school) that he knows is represented by another attorney (the AG of VA), then he is in deep kimschi. There are several other rules of conduct that are at issue, but you get the point.

  3. Charles said on 4 Sep 2011 at 12:15 am:
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    Actually, I don’t believe a lawyer is prohibited from advising a client who has annother attorney. If a client has a lawyer, but wants a second opinion, are you saying that a client cannot hire a lawyer for a second opinion?

    The letter clearly states that the problem is with the school, NOT Norment. Since the letter is the legal brief over which we are discussing the “problem”, I think it is the guiding factor in who has the trouble here, and it isn’t Norment.

  4. Harry said on 5 Sep 2011 at 9:34 am:
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    Hamilton’s situation was entirely different, Hamilton did a quid pro quo behind cllosed doors and got the 12 yr sentence he deserved. I think Norment was totally above board in thes matter and will not be sanctioned by the Bar or anyone else.

  5. NoVA Scout said on 6 Sep 2011 at 5:51 am:
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    If there’s a problem (and I tend to agree with Charles about this) the problem may not be that Norment acted as counsel to the school, but that he implied that he had that role in campaign literature or some other context. Given the rather low standard we have in this Commonwealth for public statements about background issues (Mr. Cuccinelli has had some experience with puffing his resume, as I recall) it doesn’t seem a big deal. But Greg’s headline machine thrives on magnification.

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