Amid public skepticism, commonwealth’s attorney defended by state Senate leader wins DUI appeal
HE WINS: Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood successfully appealed his DUI conviction.
By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood received the best birthday gift he could have hoped for Monday when a Stafford judge overturned his DUI conviction.
Underwood, defended by attorney and state Senate Republican Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Williamsburg Republican, was convicted in May of two charges related to driving under the influence.
But, Underwood and Norment fought the DUI conviction, ultimately leaving the commonwealth’s attorney with simply a conviction for refusing a Breathalyzer test on Monday, which court documents indicate happened to be Underwood’s birthday.
The consequences for that? A $50 fine and a one-year suspension of his driver’s license.
Underwood, a Democrat who was re-elected by Norfolk voters just days after word of the DUI charges spread, receives a salary of more than $150,000 a year as the region’s top public attorney. In October, a state trooper pulled over Underwood for driving into a coned-off lane in a construction zone as he was getting ready to exit Interstate 264 in Norfolk.
State troopers testified that Underwood, who wasn’t the first driver to drive through the zoned-off lane, smelled like alcohol, slurred his words and stumbled.
Specially appointed Circuit Court Judge Charles S. Sharp from Stafford County overturned that decision this week, saying video footage of the incident was unclear.
Other witnesses, including a pharmacy worker and a city employee, testified they had spoken with Underwood shortly before the incident and he hadn’t seemed drunk.
The public, however, if online chatter indicates anything, is unhappy about — and even skeptical of — the outcome in Underwood’s case.
Long-time Norfolk resident Archie Whitehill and columnist for the Virginian-Pilot wrote a post titled, “Corruption in the halls of justice?”
Other locals were outraged, too.
“Yet again one of Norfolk’s upper echelon escapes justice. What does it have to take for the state to come in and investigate the corruption of this city government?” wrote one Virginian Pilot reader.
“The citizens should really protest this,” another Pilot reader wrote. “Call for Underwood’s removal from office.”
Underwood has yet to make any explanation to the people who elected him. He did tell those who voted for him to “have a blessed day.” When reporters pressed him for further comments on Monday, Underwood told reporters to bug off.
“I have indicated that I have no further comment, and I wish you would get the mics out of my face,” Underwood told Hampton Roads TV station WAVY after the hearing.
Underwood’s office did not return Watchdog.org’s request for comment.
Norment is a high-profile defense lawyer who has defended public officials and their family members in the past. Norment was the Senate minority leader until the resignation of Democratic State Sen. Phil Puckett, which allowed Republicans to regain control of the Senate, and Norment to regain his title as majority leader.
He did not respond to Watchdog.org’s request for comment. Norment offered this comment in a May interview with Watchdog.org:
“I’ve spent my entire career as a trial lawyer,” Norment said. “And one of the first things that I had to intellectually discipline myself with is, I cannot allow any personal thoughts or persuasions that I may have about a case to impact my professional judgment and my professional representation.”
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at email@example.com.