Local News

Former Black Aide Pleads No Contest To Lobbying Charge

Posted August 11, 2006 8:00 a.m. EDT

— The former political director to House Speaker Jim Black pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor lobbying violation charge. She is now banned from lobbying for two years.

Investigators said Meredith Norris worked as a paid lobbyist for lottery company Scientific Games Corp., but she failed to register with the state. She also was placed on one year of unsupervised probation, fined $500 and ordered to perform 75 hours of community service.

Questions first surfaced about Norris last year when she worked for Scientific Games. She helped the lottery company get attention in the General Assembly just as the lottery won approval.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby presented in court various e-mails Norris wrote during that time. While trying to secure Scientific Games as a client, she promised to push for legislation and a lottery commission favorable to the company, and she sold herself as a direct connection to Black. She also wrote to a fellow assistant in Black's office not to share with anyone that she was not registering.

"The crux of the lobbying regulations is transparency, so that the public can see and evaluate the process. When that transparency is veiled, the public is the person who suffers," Willoughby said.

"You can very easily read into that she knew she was doing something wrong and therefore wanted to keep it quiet," said Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, whose office regulates lobbyists and investigated Norris.

Norris was called to testify last month before a federal grand jury that is believed to be investigating Black's campaign finances and ties to the video poker industry.

Black has not been charged in connection with the investigation and maintains that he has done nothing wrong.

Former lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings, a Black appointee, also has been charged with a lobbying violation related to his ties to Scientific Games. He also has been indicted on federal fraud charges in connection with the case.

Norris declined to comment Friday, but her attorney said the episode has weighed heavily on her.

"To say the least, this has been a very taxing, trying ordeal for her. She's ready to put this in the past," attorney Thomas Walker said.