California ethics panel clears O.C. Assemblyman Chris Norby

SACRAMENTO — The state’s ethics watchdog agency on Thursday dismissed allegations against Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Fullerton) that he misused campaign funds to pay for a motel stay in Orange County for personal benefit.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission overruled its chief of enforcement, who argued that Norby lied when he claimed to have checked into a motel as part of a study of homelessness issues.

“He listed the date of separation from his wife as the exact same date he checked into the motel,” Gary Winuk, the commission’s chief of enforcement, told the commission. “The respondent committed a very serious violation of the [Political Reform] Act.”

Winuk’s case was based partly on an interview Norby gave at the time to a reporter for The Times, which quoted him saying about the motel bill: “I’m surprised it was on the campaign [account]; it should not have been. And I’m going to reimburse the campaign because I was there for personal stay.”

But after hearing some testimony in public, the commission voted behind closed doors to uphold the conclusion of an administrative law judge, who had determined that the $340 motel stay was properly paid for with campaign cash because it served a governmental purpose to help Norby study how the homeless and transient population relies on motels.

Norby was on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2007 when he booked a room at the Fullerton A Inn during a time when he said he was having marital problems (he and his then-wife later divorced). Darryl R. Wold, an attorney for Norby, told the commission that the judge’s ruling was made after extensive testimony and evidence was “very carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly considered.”

Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel declined to comment on the reasoning behind the panel’s decision and would not disclose the vote tally.