O.C. lawmaker defends motel bill after ethics agency charge

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First, Chris Norby was in the doghouse with his wife, and now the Orange County assemblyman is in the doghouse with the state ethics agency. The director of the state Fair Political Practices Commission has accused Norby of using $340 in campaign funds for personal benefit when he stayed in a Fullerton motel in 2007 during a dispute with his wife, according to the lawmaker.

Norby vows to fight the accusation. He said he did leave his home for a resident motel on Orangethorpe Avenue after a quarrel with his wife. They have since divorced.


But he said he decided to use the cooling-off time away from home to study the use of the motel to shelter homeless people. At the time, he was a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

‘I was doing a homeless study,’ Norby said this week. ‘We have a lot of homeless people in motels. I think I learned a lot from it. I will stand by it.’

Roman Porter, the commission executive director, cited confidentiality rules involving unresolved investigations in declining Wednesday to comment on his decision to issue a formal finding of probable cause.

The finding, which sets the stage for an administrative hearing on the charge, alleges that Norby violated the state Political Reform Act by using campaign funds ‘for purposes not directly related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose when there was substantial personal benefit’ to Norby.

Norby, who was elected last year to the state Assembly to replace the scandal-plagued Mike Duvall, could face a fine of up to $5,000 if an administrative law judge and the commission rule that he violated state law. But his attorney said the FPPC staff had talked about a fine of about $2,000, given that Norby had reimbursed his campaign account for the $340.

Norby’s claim has apparently been undermined by statements he made at the time to the Los Angeles Times.

Norby said in 2008 that it was a ‘mistake’’ to have used campaign funds to pay for a one-week stay at the motel because he moved in while he was having marital problems with his third wife, Marsha.

‘I’m surprised it was on the campaign [account]; it should not have been,’ Norby said in 2008. ‘And I’m going to reimburse the campaign because I was there for personal stay.’

Although he paid for a week, he only stayed three nights at the motel, saying at the time, ‘It was hardly a junket to Paris.’

The lawmaker’s attorney, Darryl Wold, said the initial statements were made before Norby had consulted with legal counsel and without a full understanding of the law.

Campaign funds can be used in a way that provides a personal benefit as long as they also serve a governmental purpose, which they were in Norby’s case because of the homeless study, Wold said. He said if the study were not legit, Norby probably would have stayed at a Best Western.

But the attorney said the commission staff was questioning the claim that the stay was part of a homeless study, using Norby’s former public comments against him.

‘They are skeptical that he stayed there for that reason,’ Wold said. The assemblyman plans to plead his case to an administrative hearing.

‘He is not going to admit that he violated the law,’ Wold said.

-- Patrick McGreevy