Cuccinelli steps in

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September 20, 2011

2:40 AM

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has assigned a full-time lawyer from his office to replace Virginia Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment as a legal adviser to College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley. The change, which Cuccinelli said is intended to fix an improper arrangement, has sparked concern that the controversial conservative figure is expanding his role at the College.

The Office of the Attorney General and the College jointly reached the move, which took place in June. Senior Assistant Attorney General Deborah Love, who had represented the College part-time in Richmond since at least 2003, now works on campus full-time in place of Norment, who provided legal counsel to the president, and two others, Dick Williams and Kiersten Boyce, who worked as Coordinators of Legal Affairs.

“Bringing Deb Love to campus full time represented a realignment in how William and Mary handles its legal affairs on campus,” Reveley said. “For many years, we had a Coordinator of Legal Affairs who helped the College navigate legal waters, working closely with the Office of the Attorney General, which has always represented the College in litigation and in matters involving an attorney-client relationship. We ultimately decided it would be more effective to have a full-time lawyer from the Office of the Attorney General on campus and to end the job of on-campus Coordinator of Legal Affairs.”

As a state university, the Office of the Attorney General has always represented the College. However, Cuccinelli said that the state senator’s counsel to Reveley was not an authorized arrangement, a claim Norment denies.

In addition to providing legal advice, Norment taught classes part-time at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law to undergraduates, receiving an annual salary of $160,000. Now that Norment no longer provides legal counsel to Reveley, his salary for the current fiscal year has been reduced to $60,000.

“I think [the change] takes Senator Norment off the hot seat,” Cuccinelli said. “It cleaned up what I think was a very messy system. It wasn’t consistent with the Virginia legal structure, and the Attorney General’s office is the legal representative of these agencies and universities. And we’re pretty happy to have Deb Love full time.”

Cuccinelli has stirred controversy on Virginia college campuses since the beginning of his tenure in January 2010. Two months into his term, he advised state universities that sexual orientation should not be included under anti-discrimination policies, which prompted thousands of students, including hundreds at the College, to hold campus rallies and create large Facebook groups in protest. Cuccinelli also took legal action against a professor at the University of Virginia whose research was related to the causes of climate change.

“It is well known that the Attorney General is having ongoing issues with higher education in Virginia,” Norment said.

But when asked about the perception that the attorney general’s office was taking on an activist role at the College in light of his other controversial decisions with Virginia universities, Cuccinelli said that he was simply following the state’s legal precedent.

“Really, it’s a separate perception,” Cuccinelli said. “I mean, the law is what it is, and the law says that legal representation comes from the attorney general’s office. I didn’t write that, but I’m certainly in the role of participating in it and I’m going to do that dutifully consistent with the law. And that’s all we’ve done. That’s not activist. That’s just obeying the law.”

Sept. 2., Cuccinelli released a 2008 opinion from his predecessor, current Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), which said that while it was not a conflict of interest for Norment to serve on the College faculty or to provide legal advice, Norment had intimated that there would be no attorney-client relationship.

“The administration of the College may consult with you on policy issues. You state that you and the College will not assume the relationship of attorney and client,” McDonnell wrote.

McDonnell also said that state law required certain legal consultations to be provided by the Office of the Attorney General.

“As you undertake your new duties, I ask that you rely on my staff for such legal services as you and the College may require,” McDonnell wrote.

Norment said that he had always acted within McDonnell’s parameters. And when Norment’s position was initially established, Reveley stressed at the time that it did not present a conflict of interests.

“No ‘quid pro quo’ was involved in Senator Norment’s and my conversations about the possibility of his joining William and Mary,” Reveley said in a 2009 memo to faculty and staff. “The Senator did not offer to do anything for William and Mary in return for employment. Nor did I premise the possibility of his employment here on his doing anything for the university in the future.”

However, Reveley noted that a perceived conflict of interests could contribute to any controversy surrounding Norment’s employment at the College.

“Senator Norment has been a friend of higher education in Virginia generally, and William and Mary in particular, for many years. I was confident, and remain confident, that his interest in higher education and the university will continue whether he works here or not,” Reveley wrote. “In addition to rules and regulations governing conflicts of interest, there is the matter of public perception of conflict even if, in fact, none exists. The Senator and I are very sensitive to the appearance of conflict as well as its reality.”

Reveley declined to elaborate on what legal counsel Norment had provided.

“As I’m sure you can understand, I don’t talk about the details of private, confidential discussions I have with anyone who provides me advice and counsel,” Reveley said. “If I started doing that, my capacity to get the sort of excellent advice and counsel I get from people like Senator Norment would come to a screeching halt. He continues to provide me with very important advice and counsel, but on much reduced basis. His primary responsibilities at William and Mary are now teaching.”

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