A state prison inmate was sentenced to two years in federal prison Wednesday for attempting to extort money and an affidavit from state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, who represented him in a 2010 drunken driving trial.
Christopher John Burruss, 37, pleaded guilty in federal court last October to one count of threatening to injure the reputation of another.
He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer.
In pleading guilty, Burruss admitted that in a 2013 Virginia State Bar complaint against Norment he “attached several embarrassing email and text messages” between Norment, identified in federal case filings only as “T.N.,” and three women as well as affidavits from two of the women.
Burruss has admitted that in a subsequent email he attempted to extort an affidavit from Norment for use in his appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court in which the senator was to admit he mishandled the case. Burruss also sought restitution that would include the retainer paid Norment and $20,000 spent on other legal fees.
Burruss’ appeal, in which he argued among other things that Norment mishandled his defense, was before the Virginia Supreme Court at the time. The bar complaint, a letter, is under court seal.
In a prepared statement Wednesday following Burruss’ sentencing, Norment said, “I am prayerful that today’s court proceedings bring closure to a protracted and arduous experience for both Mr. Burruss and myself, dating back to my professional representation of him in 2010.
“I remain respectful of Mr. Burruss’ rights to explore every procedural avenue of relief available through the judicial system. However, the Virginia State Bar, three different levels of Virginia courts, and now the U.S. District Court have determined I was not ineffective in my representation of him,” Norment said.
He added that, “Although Mr. Burruss has made various unfounded accusations against me, my attorney-client privilege remains in place and I will not violate that privilege.”
According to federal court documents, Norment responded to an email sent by a person on Burruss’s behalf, on Jan. 24, 2014, writing: “Going public will certainly be punitive and hurtful to me and some innocent people who have nothing to do with this case. It is one thing to target me, it is another to leverage innocent people.”
According to the government’s sentencing position filed last month, “T.N.,” Norment, also asked in his Jan. 24, 2014, email, what “assurance do I have that (Burruss) won’t still go public if I do prepare an affidavit and his appeal is denied?”
After receiving another email on Jan. 26, 2014, “T.N.,” Norment, reported the matter to federal and state authorities.
Burruss was sentenced to four years and three months in 2010 after he was convicted in a jury trial of driving under the influence and eluding police in New Kent County. Norment was his trial lawyer.
Federal prosecutors said Burruss’s prior record includes convictions for sale of a controlled substance, larceny, resisting arrest, abduction, and breaking and entering. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 24 months.
Burruss’ state prison term ended last month.
Although others were involved in the extortion attempt, prosecutors wrote that prison telephone calls make it clear that Burruss alone “was the driving force behind the extortion.”
In a sentencing memorandum, Burruss’s lawyer, Carolyn V. Grady, wrote that Burruss “became privy to T.N.’s emails and texts (to Burruss’s female friends) that convinced him that T.N. had a conflict of interest in representing him.”
“When Mr. Burruss had not heard anything from his bar complaint after waiting for about four months, he wrote the bar request(ing) an update, suggesting to the bar that he had reporters who were interested in that information he did not agree to turn over, at that time,” wrote Grady.
“There was no motive for profit,” she wrote. “Mr. Burruss did not try to personally enrich himself but just try and make him and his friends whole from losses he believed were caused by T.N.’s unethical and ineffective representation.”
In his statement Wednesday, Norment said, “I am respectful that Mr. Burruss agreed to plead guilty to the charge and spare everyone involved from having to proceed to trial. ... I wish him well and consider this matter concluded.”