St. Mary's County lawyer admits bilking clients

December 13, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

LEONARDTOWN -- Former prosecutor Charles A. Norris, who disappeared from his home in Leonardtown late last year, has pleaded guilty to stealing $51,000 from two clients in his private law practice.

Norris, 59, who served one term as St. Mary's County state's attorney in the early 1960s, was charged with stealing $20,000 from Joan Tawney of Leonardtown, whom he represented in an auto accident case.

Norris pleaded guilty to felony theft Tuesday in connection with the charge that in October 1990 he endorsed a $20,000 State Farm insurance settlement check made out to Ms. Tawney and deposited it in his personal account at the First National Bank of St. Mary's in Leonardtown.

Norris also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft for bilking disabled World War II veteran William Burns out of $31,810 between October 1990 and August 1991. According to the court papers, Norris, who was Mr. Burns' guardian, wrote a series of checks payable to himself for varying amounts on the trust account of Mr. Burns. The 74-year-old man was declared incompetent in 1958 and lives in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington.

Special prosecutor David Densford said the state wanted one felony plea, so it agreed to reduce one charge to a misdemeanor. As part of the agreement, Norris will make full restitution.

Norris entered the pleas in Charles County Circuit Court, where the case had been moved because of pretrial publicity. Mr. Densford, of Leonardtown, was assigned to the case at the request of the St. Mary's County state's attorney's office, which begged off because of its long-standing professional dealings with Norris.

Prince George's Circuit Judge Graydon S. McKee III set sentencing for Feb. 5. Mr. Densford said the defense, the state and the court have agreed on a 10-year term, with all but 18 months suspended, to be served in the St. Mary's County House of Detention. Norris remains free on $10,000 bond pending sentencing.

"These people have a right to be paid," said Mr. Densford. Norris is "way behind schedule."

In St. Mary's County District Court Thursday, Norris also agreed to make restitution of $10,200 in two other cases involving Mr. Burns. In exchange, the state decided not to prosecute the fTC cases, in which Norris was charged with stealing money paid as rent on property owned by Mr. Burns. The cases were placed on the inactive docket, Mr. Densford said.

The cases involving Mr. Burns came to light after his nephew, Michael Burns of Mechanicsville, was unable to reach Norris for months to inquire about his uncle's affairs.

Norris left town sometime in the fall, months before he was indicted in March.

He turned himself in to authorities in May.

Norris was removed as Mr. Burns' guardian in April. In October he was disbarred.

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