By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
RICHMOND, VA. In a case which will likely be studied at law schools and in continuing education courses for attorneys at Bar Association Conventions (that is how they get to write off their taxes attendance at resorts) one Virginia lawyer has gone unnamed as the victim by federal prosecutors. That lawyer was promptly outed by a newspaper as Virginia State Sen. Thomas “Tommy” K. Norment of Williamsburg, Va..
The lawyer, referred to by the federal prosecutors only as (T.N.), having represented Christopher J. Burruss, a DUI driver in court, the relationship during and after the case progressing through New Kent County, Virginia courts, apparently led to allegations in an email extortion attempt of some serious socializing between the client, the lawyer and a couple of women.
The information provided by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney don’t give exact details of the involvement but the reader can rest assured the affair likely included a bar, politicians, booze, perhaps a motel room and well…you can just imagine an episode of a scandal-laden cable TV show like House of Cards and one might have the entire picture.
The story started with this case: The New Kent/Charles City Chronicle reported on May 27, 2010 that among those indicted by the New Kent County Grand Jury was “Christopher J. Burruss, 32, of 26036 Pembroke Creek Road, South Riding, Va. On one count each of eluding police and misdemeanor driving under the influence. Burruss was arrested last Dec. 30.”
The Daily Press identified “T.N.” as Virginia State Senator Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R.) of James City County.
What Burruss and his friends may not have realized is that Sen. Norment didn’t fear ridicule and embarrassment over any alleged out-of-court activities as, after all, he is a politician and a leader of the General Assembly, thus is pretty much immune to slurs on his character.
RICHMOND – A man sitting in a state correctional center for running from police has been charged with trying to extort money from his former attorney, state Sen. Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment Jr.
Christopher John Burruss was convicted in New Kent County in 2010 on charges of eluding police and driving under the influence. He got four years and he’s due out in March.
The Daily Press also reported on Oct. 3, 2014 that Norment refused to comment on the case, citing attorney-client confidentiality.
Norment released only a short statement about the case Wednesday, saying he has to honor Burruss’ attorney-client privilege rights.
“Even though Mr. Burruss has made various accusations against me which were professionally upsetting, my attorney-client privileged relationship remains,” Norment said in the written statement. “I must continue to respect that professional relationship and I will not ethically violate those communications. For that reason I feel constrained to not provide any specifics of our professional relationship.”
Burruss’ court appointed defense attorney didn’t return a telephone message Wednesday. Andrew Wiggin, who handled Burruss’ appeal on the initial case, said there were a number of problems with the defense Norment put up.
He advised Burruss not to enter his own not guilty plea, but to let the court do it for him, according to Wiggin. Wiggin also said Norment didn’t know how many prior felony convictions Burruss had, which the prosecution used to its advantage.
“He put him on the stand, he was obviously ill-prepared to testify,” Wiggin said.
Burruss took his appeal to state Supreme Court, but was unable to get the case overturned, Wiggin said.
Wiggin wouldn’t say what information Burruss was apparently attempting to hang over Norment’s head in this federal case, but did say he was privy to it and that it didn’t come out during the appeal. He also wouldn’t name the two affidavit writers identified only by their initials in court records.
Also included in published reports of prior criminal arrests of Burruss is this report: Williamsburg Va. Police Dept. 12/4/04, Grand larceny — Christopher J. Burruss, 27, arrested.
As the Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate, Norment is clearly both a magnet for attention from supporters, opponents and as a target of griffters seeking to extort money.
A favorable view of the Senator is displayed on his campaign website, including a photo of him with the now convicted Gov. Bob McDonnell in the background. About Tommy Norment
During his 20 years in the Senate of Virginia, Tommy Norment has earned a reputation as one of the Commonwealth’s most effective legislators. For this reason, Tommy was elected by his colleagues to serve as Majority Leader of the Senate Republicans. As a member of the Courts of Justice, Finance, Rehabilitation and Social Services, Rules, and Commerce and Labor Committees, Tommy regularly works on legislation to make our community safer and to ensure that Virginia remains the best state in which to raise a family and do business. Tommy is a champion of Virginia’s right-to-work laws and is equally committed to promoting transparency in government. As a graduate of public schools and the father of a teacher, Tommy fully understands the need for our Commonwealth to provide a high quality education to all students. A strong advocate for higher education, he has worked tirelessly to ensure our public colleges and universities remain at the top of the national rankings.
This is the information presented by the FBI:
Defendant Pleads Guilty in E-Mail Extortion Scheme
RICHMOND, VA—Christopher J. Burruss, 37, of Toano, Virginia, pleaded guilty today to Interstate Threat to Injure the Reputation of Another, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(d). Burruss faces a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and one year of supervised release when he is sentenced on January 21, 2015, by United States District Court Judge James R. Spencer.
Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Adam S. Lee, Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Richmond Division, made the announcement after the guilty plea was accepted by Magistrate Judge David J. Novak.
According to court papers, the victim of the scheme, T.N., is an attorney who previously represented Burruss in an Eluding Police and Driving Under the Influence (First Offense) criminal case in New Kent County, Virginia. In November 2010, Burruss went to trial and was ultimately convicted on both offenses. In November 2012, Burruss filed a Habeas Corpus Petition in state court, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by T.N. After a hearing on the matter, the Virginia Circuit Court with jurisdiction over the case rejected Burruss’s challenge. He appealed and, in early 2014, the case was pending before the Virginia Supreme Court with oral arguments scheduled for February 11, 2014.
As part of the plea, Burruss admitted that on September 12, 2013, he filed a Virginia State Bar complaint against T.N. Among other allegations, Burruss stated that he believed that T.N. had mishandled the New Kent County criminal case and had inappropriate communications and contact with Burruss’s friend, S.B., and another woman leading up to and after the criminal case that affected T.N.’s representation. Included with the complaint, Burruss attached several embarrassing e-mail and text messages between T.N., S.B., and two other women. Also included were affidavits from S.B. and another woman detailing some of their interactions with T.N. before and after the New Kent County criminal case. These e-mails, text messages, and affidavits later served as the basis for Burruss’s extortionate threats against T.N.
From January 23, 2014, through January 26, 2014, Burruss, with the assistance of S.B., began a direct e-mail exchange with T.N. in which Burruss communicated his extortionate demands. In a series of three e-mails, his demands evolved and required that to avoid disclosure of the embarrassing communications to the press, T.N. would have to submit an affidavit to the Virginia Supreme Court admitting to mishandling the New Kent County criminal case and repay almost $20,000 in legal fees incurred by Burruss in connection with the case. The one-count information charging Burruss is premised on the following extortionate communication sent by Burruss on January 24, 2014, in response to a series of questions from T.N.:
Hi [T.N.]- In response to your letter this morning Chris is seeking that you write an affidavit to be submitted to the Supreme Court admitting that you mishandled the case. 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. Neither of the affidavits from [C.E.] or myself were submitted to the court. They are not yet public record, however Chris intends to move forward on Monday afternoon. As far as the Bar is concerned we all know they would prefer to keep all of this very quiet. Best regards- [S.B.]
After receiving the final e-mail on the afternoon of January 26, 2014, T.N. had no further communication with Burruss or S.B. T.N. reported this matter to federal and state authorities, which led to the current prosecution.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Richmond office. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Gill and Heather Hart are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.