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Opinion

Op-Ed: In Virginia, a conflict of interest that never was

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Opinion,Virginia,Op-Eds

Given this year's high-profile gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, it is not surprising that some partisans, pundits and reporters have distorted the facts of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's role in defending the commonwealth against the Star Scientific tax lawsuit in an effort to create a controversy where none should exist.

A few weeks ago, the Office of Attorney General announced the appointment of outside counsel to the Star Scientific tax case. Former Democratic Attorney General Stephen D. Rosenthal and former Republican Solicitor General William H. Hurd, both of the Troutman Sanders international law firm, have offered to handle the case for the Virginia Department of Taxation at no cost to taxpayers.

Despite what you may read in the blogosphere (and several newspapers), there was no conflict of interest in the attorney general's office. Star Scientific is suing the commonwealth in a disagreement over the interpretation of state tax law, alleging an erroneous assessment.

The assessment has been in dispute between the company and the tax department since Gov. Mark Warner's administration in 2002. The company brought suit in 2011.

The fact is Cuccinelli has not been personally involved with the Star Scientific case. Even The Washington Post -- a publication that has not exactly been equitable in its coverage of the two gubernatorial candidates -- acknowledged as much on March 30: "There is no evidence that Cuccinelli sought to intervene personally in Star Scientific's suit."

Having once proudly served as attorney general of Virginia but, like Cuccinelli, not being a tax lawyer, I can attest that it would have been a misallocation of talent for me to involve myself in a tax dispute of this nature.

The Star Scientific case has been making its way through Virginia's government for 11 years: first a two-year appeal of the underlying tax assessment under Warner; then a six-year request for reconsideration spanning the administrations of Warner, Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell. After its request was denied, Star brought a lawsuit, which takes us up to present day.

During all of these years, the case has gone unresolved and Cuccinelli has had no involvement with it. The notion that Cuccinelli has been involved in any impropriety with respect to this matter is frankly ridiculous.

Despite the clear lack of evidence, Cuccinelli's detractors continue to dig. As far as I am concerned, they can keep on digging for a long time, because there is nothing to find. They have drilled in a dry hole.

Now that the attorney general's office has appointed outside counsel, I urge media outlets to return their "professional" focus to the important work in which Cuccinelli has been and is engaged for the commonwealth.

He has distinguished himself as one of the hardest-working attorneys general nationally. Since day one, Cuccinelli has taken meaningful actions on a wide range of issues that have moved the commonwealth in a principled direction.

He has made Virginia safer from child predators and human traffickers, secured justice for the wrongfully accused, sought to ensure that Virginia's legislators followed the Constitution, and tried to keep Virginia a superior place to do business.

Cuccinelli and I have not agreed on every issue with which he has been confronted. No one should expect otherwise; the same would be true of any political figure. Yet Cuccinelli admirably has become a Teddy Roosevelt of Virginia politics.

As someone who knows him to be a straight-shooting leader, I trust Virginians will reject mischaracterizations, whether by partisans, pundits or reporters, and focus in 2013 on what he has to offer the commonwealth going forward.

Andrew Miller was Virginia attorney general from 1970 to 1977.

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