Stolle, Norment named in complaint alleging conflict: Newport News VA Daily Press, 2/9/07

By Bob Lewis, Associated Press

Two [Virginia] state senators are named in complaints filed by an attorney and conservative Republican activist from Roanoke who contends the lawmakers have conflicts of interest regarding eminent domain legislation.

In letters to the Division of Legislative Services, G. David Nixon alleges that Republican Sens. Kenneth W. Stolle of Virginia Beach and Thomas K. Norment of James City have "thwarted attempts to bring about meaningful eminent domain legislation."

Nixon notes in the letters that Norment and Stolle work for the Kaufman & Canoles law firm. Because the firm's work includes property condemnation and eminent domain litigation, Nixon's complaint says, Norment and Stolle both have conflicts on the issue and both sit on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, which decides the fate of eminent domain bills.

Neither Stolle nor Norment practice eminent domain law, and both said the attorneys in their firm who do overwhelmingly represent landowners fighting efforts to have their land taken through eminent domain.

He also notes that both have connections to the state's dominant utility, Dominion Resources. Both reported hunting trips to Georgia paid for by the company, and Norment owns stock in the company, which uses eminent domain to condemn land for power line rights of way.

On Jan. 31, Stolle and Norment both received advisory opinions they had sought from Attorney General Bob McDonnell that said their employment presented no conflict that would bar either from discussing or voting on eminent domain legislation. The ruling, however, did not address involvement with Dominion, a giant power company fighting for legislation this year to run a major new high-voltage power line through suburban northern Virginia.

Stolle and Norment both rejected Nixon's assertion.

"It's absolutely irresponsible and spurious," said Norment. "I find it shocking that a fellow lawyer would file a complaint like and accompany it with a news release."

Stolle reasoned that there were political motives behind the complaint.

"My guess is this arises from a group of people who have tried to force some eminent domain reform language through and they don't like Tommy and I having votes on the process," Stolle said.

Both senators are among the ring of Republican moderates who have dominated fiscal policy in the Senate for years and outraged GOP conservatives by supporting tax increases passed in 2004.

Nixon has served on the Roanoke city GOP committee for 30 years and said he has been active in opposing moderates the party's conservatives call RINOs, or Republicans in name only.

"But that's completely aside from whether they have a conflict of interest. They should not be carrying the ball for condemner clients that they have," Nixon said.

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