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Man who sought to blackmail Norment pleads guilty


Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr.

Virginia state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City County, was the victim of attempted blackmail over purportedly “inappropriate” and “embarrassing” communications with two women, according to a government-prepared statement filed in federal court.

A statement of facts filed in connection with a charge of attempted extortion against a former client shows Norment, a Williamsburg lawyer, sought to keep details of those communications from becoming public.

The former client was demanding a written admission of ineffective legal work and a full refund of legal fees in exchange for keeping quiet about Norment’s behavior, the government said.

The Senate majority leader at one point appeared to consider preparing an affidavit to help the former client, but he soon reported the blackmail attempt to authorities, according to the statement of facts filed by the U.S. attorney’s office.

“I only sought to protect my professional reputation I have spent over 30 years developing,” Norment said when asked if he sought to prevent disclosure of the communications.

Norment said Oct. 21 he was precluded from discussing his communications with the former client, who was convicted in 2010 of eluding police and driving under the influence of cocaine. The client still is serving a four-year sentence.

The details of Norment’s interaction with former client Christopher Burruss emerged after Burruss, 37, pleaded guilty in federal court Oct. 21 to the attempted extortion charge.

According to prosecutors, Burruss believed Norment had “inappropriate communications and contact” with Burruss’ female friend and another woman leading up to and after Burruss’ criminal case.

Burruss wielded copies of “embarrassing email and text messages” between Norment and several women and affidavits from two women detailing some of their interactions with Norment, according to the statement of facts.

The statement does not provide additional detail about Norment’s alleged interaction with the women, and no further information about the documents was available.

Burruss admitted threatening to expose the information if Norment, who is married, did not help to invalidate Burruss’ convictions.

After his 2010 trial and sentencing, Burruss sought to overturn his convictions. Working with a different lawyer, he complained that Norment had unwisely decided to put him on the witness stand where he was questioned, without preparation, about his extensive criminal and traffic record.

Burruss also accused Norment of putting him in an awkward position before a jury by having him refuse to plead either guilty or not guilty, forcing the judge to enter a plea of not guilty.

Burruss’ contention that he was a victim of ineffective assistance of counsel was rejected by the Court of Appeals of Virginia, by a circuit judge and finally by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The reported shakedown attempt began with Burruss’ ethics complaint with the Virginia State Bar last year. While the Supreme Court petition was pending, Burruss filed a complaint with the VSB in September 2013.

Besides complaining that Norment had mishandled his trial, Burruss allegedly accused Norment of “inappropriate communication and contact” with two women and sent the bar copies of the “embarrassing” email and text communications and the affidavits.

Burruss’ bar complaint led to an exchange of emails with Norment.

In January, Burruss sent a letter to the VSB suggesting he was prepared to turn over documentation regarding the matter to a news reporter. Burruss apparently hoped the threat would lead Norment to help his habeas appeal, but Norment did not initially know about the threat, according to the statement.

Later in January, Burruss, through one of the women, began an email exchange with Norment, the statement said.

“Chris is hoping you will do the right thing and put together an affidavit for the Supreme Court,” the email is quoted. “His appointment with the press is Monday and I would hate to see this all come to light.”

According to the statement, Norment responded, “His going public will certainly be punitive and hurtful to me and some innocent people who have nothing to do with the case.”

Norment said he did not see how making the information public would help Burruss’ case. He also asked, “What assurance do I have that he won’t still go public if I do prepare an affidavit and his appeal is denied?”

Norment said if the affidavits had been filed with the Supreme Court, they would become public anyway, according to the statement.

Burruss’ response to that email formed the basis of the criminal charge, the statement said.

Burruss asked for Norment to “write an affidavit to be submitted to the Supreme Court admitting that you mishandled the case.”

The email, purportedly from Burruss’ friend, continued: “He is also seeking complete restitution, which would include your retainer and the $20,000 in legal fees since then. In the event that the DUI fine remains in effect he asks that you pay that, as well.”

“As far as the Bar is concerned we all know they would prefer to keep all of this very quiet,” the email said, according to the federal charge.

Norment then told Burruss, through the intermediary, that he would read the habeas appeal and consider what he might say in an affidavit.

Burruss’ response was that he expected a “convincing argument, as well as full restitution.”

Norment sent additional questions about Burruss’ demands and intentions, but he had already taken steps to contact authorities, the statement said.

Burruss may have been warned off his scheme.

In his final communication with Norment, he told Norment to direct any questions to his habeas lawyer or the state’s lawyer. In the final sentence, Burruss reportedly said, “To be clear, there is no quid pro quo. Please contact these lawyers for any assistance.”

Contacted Oct. 21, Norment offered no comment on details of the newly disclosed government statement of facts. “Unfortunately all of these suggestions by Mr. Burruss are part of his underlying case and my representation of him which I am precluded from discussing,” Norment said in an email.

Norment said the ethical complaints against him were determined to be unfounded. Bar Counsel Edward L. Davis confirmed that “an investigation by the VSB resulted in a determination that further proceedings were not warranted.”

“I am hopeful closure has been brought to this matter. Mr. Burruss has accepted responsibility for his actions and I consider the matter closed,” Norment said, adding, “When someone is convicted and incarcerated for a felony it is sometimes expected they will exhaust any means available to mitigate their punishment.”

Norment did not appear at Burruss’ plea hearing Oct. 21 before U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael R. Gill told Novak that the victim did not object to the plea agreement.

Burruss said he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty. He acknowledged the accuracy of the government’s statement of facts.

Burruss told the judge he completed treatment for alcohol and drug abuse several months ago.

“In the last four years, I have turned my life around dramatically,” he said at one point.

Burruss faces up to two years in prison when he is sentenced in January.

Neither Gill nor Burruss’ attorney, public defender Carolyn V. Grady, would comment after the hearing.

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