Cuccinelli steps away from case involving company he invests in

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Friday recused his office from a state legal matter involving Star Scientific, a company in which he owns stock and whose founder has given Cuccinelli thousands of dollars in gifts.

Cuccinelli appointed former state Attorney General Stephen Rosenthal, a Democrat, and former Solicitor General William Hurd, a Republican, to handle the case for the state. Both work for the law firm of Troutman Sanders and will work pro bono.

Star Scientific is in a fight with the state over unpaid taxes, though the case has been stalled since late 2010. Cuccinelli owns between $10,000 and $50,000 in Star Scientific stock, the only investment he listed on financial disclosure forms filed with the state.

Jonnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific, has given Cuccinelli $13,000 in personal gifts.

"To be clear, there was absolutely no conflict of interest with the attorney general's office," said Brian Gottstein, spokesman for Cuccinelli. "But in an abundance of caution and to move past what has become an unnecessary distraction for the office and the attorney general, the case was given to outside counsel."

Cuccinelli is the presumptive Republican candidate for governor and will face Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the fall. Democrats renewed calls for Cuccinelli to step down from his post as the state's top lawyer and follow a tradition of previous state attorney generals who resigned from the job to run for governor.

"Recusing himself after he got caught isn't enough," said Brian Coy, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. "It's time for Ken Cuccinelli to resign before his conflicts do any further harm to this commonwealth's reputation for transparency and accountability."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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