Commentary, News

Must read: Did Trump’s federal court nominee for NC lie to the Senate?

Thomas Farr

Be sure to check out a story in Durham’s Indy Week by reporters Tommy Goldsmith and Erica Hellerstein about Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr — Donald Trump’s controversial nominee to fill the decade-old vacancy on the federal district court in North Carolina’s Eastern District.

This is from the story “Did Former Helms Lawyer Thomas Farr Lie to the Senate Judiciary Committee? It Sure Looks That Way.”:

Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr, a nominee for a federal judgeship, knew well in advance about a controversial 1990 postcard campaign designed by Republicans to intimidate blacks who wanted to vote, according to a former Department of Justice investigator.

The statements made this week by Gerald Hebert, a federal attorney in 1990, directly contradict Farr’s sworn testimony in September before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he only heard about it after a Justice Department letter responding to the plan….

Hebert told the INDY Wednesday that he learned about the role Farr played planning the postcards when responding to complaints to the Justice Department about the 1990 senatorial campaign of the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

A meeting planning “ballot security” efforts—including the intimidating postcards—included Farr and took place in mid-October before the November election between Helms, who won, and then-Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, Hebert says, referring to contemporaneous handwritten notes.

“We talked to Farr, and he confirmed a lot of what we’d heard,” Hebert told the INDY Wednesday. “I don’t think he can really claim that the first he heard of it from a Justice Department letter.”

Yet that’s exactly what he did.

The Justice Department eventually charged the state Republican Party and the Helms campaign, for which Farr was lead counsel, with violating African-American voters’ rights by sending more than one hundred thousand postcards, mostly to black neighborhoods, suggesting that recipients were ineligible to vote and could be prosecuted if they tried.

“He was certainly involved in the scheme as it was being developed,” Hebert told this reporter for a 2009 News & Observer story….

Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, an association of public interest and civil rights organizations formed in 1979, says Hebert’s account of Farr’s early involvement makes sense given what she called Farr’s long record of voter suppression efforts.

“There’s certainly a clear discrepancy between what Mr. Farr testified to under oath to the committee and what has and will be reported about his activities with Helms regarding voter suppression,” Aron says. “A key qualification for a judge is impeccable honesty. This raises a whole slew of questions.”

Though Farr was approved in a narrow and partisan 11-9 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, his nomination has yet to be taken up by the full Senate. Click here to read the rest of this damning story.

Commentary

A life condemned: Remembering my client who died on death row

[Cross-posted from the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.]

By Elizabeth Hambourger

I’m a capital defense lawyer. At any given time, I represent a dozen or more men and women who are either on death row or charged with first-degree murder. Death is an inescapable part of my work, but that’s been true this year more than most. In January, my client Ricky “Coolie” Gray was executed in Virginia. And although North Carolina has not executed anyone in over a decade, those confined to our death row are beginning to die of old age and sickness. In October, my client Terry Ball died of natural causes at Central Prison. Much has been written about Coolie’s life. Terry, by contrast, slipped away with barely a mention after living on death row for almost 25 years. I believe his life is worth remembering, and that his story, like all my clients’ stories, hold keys to understanding the origins of crime and our shared humanity with people labeled the worst of the worst.

Terry grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. His parents lost their first-born child in a farming accident, but they did their loving best for Terry and his sister. Terry’s problems seem to have begun at age 10, when he was hit by a car and spent eight weeks in the hospital. The head trauma he suffered permanently changed him. His grades fell and he became defiant with his parents. However, the severity of his brain injury was not fully diagnosed at the time.

Perhaps it was because of this brain damage that Terry made the fateful decision to run away from home at 13. He was in love with a girl named Kim and their parents didn’t approve of the relationship, so Terry and Kim ran off together to Cincinnati. A man named Jerry Wood approached the pair at a bus station and offered them a place to stay. Terry and Kim gratefully accepted, having no idea that Wood was not only a career criminal but a serial rapist of runaway and neglected boys. Wood was at that very moment wanted by police for felony assault.

Elizabeth Hambourger

Wood quickly put Kim on a bus back home but forced Terry to remain with him for the next month, raping him repeatedly, keeping him high on drugs, and forcing him to steal. Eventually Terry managed to escape. But when he returned home, he was treated not as a victim but a delinquent and placed in a juvenile detention center as punishment for running away.

Terry’s parents and the mental health workers at the detention center seemed unable to confront the reality that Terry had been raped. Because of the stigma and misinformation surrounding homosexuality in the 1970s, they accused him of being gay instead of treating him as a victim of sexual assault. One psychiatrist wrote: “When he was away from home, he travelled all over the country with a 32-year-old male. This association raised the question of possible homosexuality; Terry denies this… The parents… at the present time appear to be concerned in case the label of homosexual will be applied to Terry.” Terry never received any treatment or even recognition of the trauma he’d been through, and Jerry Wood was never prosecuted for it. Today, Wood is serving a 45-year sentence in Pennsylvania for the rapes of two other children.

Without treatment, Terry turned to drug use, a trick he’d learned from Jerry Wood to dull his pain, shame, and rage. He enlisted, but was discharged from the Navy because of addiction and then committed several violent drug-motivated robberies. He served prison terms for beating a woman with a hammer and slitting a young man’s throat. By some stroke of luck, both victims survived. Read more

Commentary

Editorial: Debtors’ prison still a reality in 21st Century North Carolina

An editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer highlights and decries an all-too-common reality that persists in 21st Century North Carolina: debtors’ prison. As “Stop jailing people for being poor” explains, our state is still imprisoning huge numbers of people simply because they can’t afford to pay court fines and fees — fines and fees, it should be noted, that our tax-averse General Assembly keeps jacking up at a rapid rate. This is from the editorial:

“The poorest among us should not be responsible for funding the criminal justice system, nor should they be punished simply for being poor. That message is beginning to resonate in both Carolinas but needs to become a principle upon which more court officials and legislators abide.

In Mecklenburg County, judges are working with Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Debt Initiative to ensure that people who don’t belong in jail are no longer sent and stuck there because they are unable to pay fines on charges that aren’t supposed to include jail time. As The Observer’s Michael Gordon reported this weekend, Mecklenburg judges will start weighing defendants’ incomes and expenses, their housing status, and whether they can afford to pay for a lawyer. Given that more than half of defendants in North Carolina in non-traffic criminal cases were declared indigent last year – and that taxpayers pay the hefty bill to jail people who don’t belong there – the move is a wise one.

It goes against recent actions taken by the North Carolina General Assembly, which has made it harder for judges to use their discretion to find non-jail options for poor defendants. Legislators have increased court fees by 400 percent over the past two decades, and too many state agencies have come to rely upon the $700 million they generate for the general fund. That’s why it’s going to be difficult to reverse course. But other N.C. counties should follow Mecklenburg’s lead, even if it means more judges get placed on what court insiders call the ‘List of Shame’ by refusing to sit idly while the state encourages a debtors’ prison. Judges should be proud to be named to the legislatively mandated list, ensuring fair treatment of the most vulnerable. They should not feel shame for doing the right thing….

We should have never built a justice system that routinely treated the downtrodden unfairly so towns and cities could fund their growing budgets. Municipalities, courts and other government agencies must find constitutionally sound revenue sources and stop preying on the poor.”

Commentary, News

Watchdog group calls for investigation of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

In case you missed it, the nonpartisan good government advocates who helped bring down former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black are demanding and investigation into recent revelations about Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. This is from a release distributed by Democracy North Carolina:

Call for Investigation of Possible Illegal Donation

Democracy North Carolina is following up a story published by WRAL on Sunday with a call for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to investigate an apparent illegal donation to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

In releasing the letter below (sent Monday to the Board), executive director Bob Hall said, “It’s important for the State Board to investigate and take firm action to prevent this kind of shadowy campaign operation from embedding itself inside the office of a public official.”

*                      *                      *

November 13, 2017

Kim Westbrook Strach
State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement
430 N. Salisbury St., 3rd Floor, Dobbs Building
Raleigh, NC 27603

Dear Ms. Strach,

I am requesting an investigation by your agency of a possible illegal donation received by Lieutenant Governor Daniel Forest as described in a November 12th article by WRAL reporter Travis Fain entitled “Nonprofit provides TV studio for Lt. Gov. Forest’s office,” at this link:

http://www.wral.com/nonprofit-provides-tv-studio-for-lt-gov-forest-s-office/17071692/

The article describes how a nonprofit corporation, “run and at least partly funded” by Forest’s major campaign contributor, is providing TV equipment valued at over $60,000 for a new TV studio in Forest’s government office, which allows Forest to create messages on an array of topics and broadcast them to voters. Importantly, the corporation’s TV equipment is not a permanent gift to the State of North Carolina for use by a variety of public officials. Rather, it is provided temporarily as a loan, for the benefit of only Forest and subject to removal when he leaves the office.

David Longo, the major contributor behind this corporate donation, has given at least $125,000 to committees aiding Forest’s election, and he and his family have contributed at least $40,000 directly to Forest’s campaigns, according to the article.

This loan of sophisticated TV equipment appears to be a political donation. A reasonable person would recognize that it is meant to influence and materially assist Forest’s political career and campaign. It is not dissimilar to a major contributor providing a jet plane, available on loan, to fly the politician around the state to promote his or her agenda and visibility. Such a contribution is subject to campaign contribution rules in North Carolina.

It’s one thing for an independent 501-c-4 operation to promote the agenda, views and political future of a politician; it’s quite another to allow the c-4 to be set up and operate within the politician’s government office, use government resources and coordinate its operation with government staff, all for the advancement of the politician, not the general public.

It appears that the donation of TV equipment is a campaign contribution that violates North Carolina’s disclosure laws and ban against corporate contributions. Alternatively, the donation may fit the description of “anything of value” that Forest is prohibited from receiving under NC General Statute 138A-32(a) because of its influence on how he discharges his duties as a public official.

I look forward to your investigation of these matters.

Sincerely,

Bob Hall
Executive Director

Commentary, News

Even Burr and Tillis telling Roy Moore it’s time to go

The Alabama special Senate election is four weeks from today and the walls appear to be closing in on Roy Moore. Today, even North Carolina’s usually-late-to-the-party senators weighed in to call for his withdrawal in light of revelations about alleged sexual misconduct.

This is from a story on WFAE.org in Charlotte:

“North Carolina’s two U.S. Senators have joined a growing group of Republican colleagues in Congress calling on Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to withdraw from the race.

Their statements came after a fifth woman accused Moore of sexual misconduct when she was a 16-year-old waitress in the 1970s.  In a Twitter post, Thom Tillis called the allegations against Moore ‘disturbing,’ and said he should immediately drop out of the race.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported that Richard Burr’s office issued a statement saying he thinks Moore should ‘do the right thing and withdraw.'”

Good for Burr and Tillis for speaking up, though one wishes that: a) they’d done so earlier given Moore’s reprehensible record in countless other areas in his public life, and b) they’d muster the courage to take a similar stand vis a vis another certain serial prevaricator and part-time sexual predator who occupies an even higher office in our nation’s capital.