Compromise reached for Cuccinelli-Star Scientific correspondence
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia attorney general's office and a Democratic state senator agreed Friday to a compromise on his request for the office's correspondence with a businessman whose gift giving has stirred a political scandal.
Both sides in the dispute claimed victory in the ruling by a Richmond judge on Friday, days after state Sen. Donald McEachin filed a lawsuit. He alleged Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office had balked at releasing the records under the Freedom of Information Act. Cuccinelli is the Republican nominee for governor, and his ties to Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams have become a campaign issue.
McEachin said the attorney general's office had put up unreasonable demands to obtain the records, including a fee of more than $14,000 ahead of the search.
Cuccinelli's office said McEachin had made an overly broad request and rebuffed suggestions to narrow its focus.
Friday, however, Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said that McEachin's attorneys agreed to limit their search for the correspondence.
"From the beginning of this dispute, we indicated we were always willing to work with Mr. McEachin to find the documents he seeks; instead, we were met with the threat of a lawsuit," Gottstein said in a statement. "However, once the court instructed us to try to reach a compromise, one was quickly reached."
McEachin filed the lawsuit on Monday in his quest to seek communications between Cuccinelli's office and Williams, whose suburban Richmond company manufactures nutritional supplements.
In a statement released Friday night, McEachin said the attorney general's office agreed to lower some barriers to his request for the correspondence.
"I was heartened today by Ken Cuccinelli's representatives' decision, at the urging of a Richmond City Circuit Court judge, to eliminate many of the onerous obstacles they had placed between the Virginia public and records involving Cuccinelli's conflict of interest scandal with Jonnie Williams and Star Scientific."
Cuccinelli is locked in a competitive fall race with Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Williams gave thousands of dollars in gifts and money to Cuccinelli and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family. Federal and state criminal investigations are looking into McDonnell's ties to Williams and his company.
McDonnell and Cuccinelli have denied any wrongdoing, and the attorney general has sought to distance himself from the governor.
Cuccinelli accepted more than $18,000 worth of gifts from Williams and Star Scientific, and once owned more than $10,000 in company stock. Some of the gratuities, including a $3,000 summer family vacation and a catered $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner at Williams' palatial waterside getaway at Smith Mountain Lake near the Blue Ridge Mountains, were not disclosed until April, when Cuccinelli amended four years' of economic disclosure forms.
In July, Richmond's Democratic commonwealth's attorney, Mike Herring, said in a report that Cuccinelli broke no state law with his tardy disclosures of Williams' gifts.
Then, earlier this month, Cuccinelli gave a Richmond charity $18,000 - the same value as gifts he accepted from Williams.