Fayetteville Observer Wins an Important Victory (Mike Lallier Case)

I’m a firm believer in our free press.  It’s one of the reasons I started this blog.  I’m also an attorney, and in my near decade-long legal career, I’ve learned that justice does not grow well behind closed doors.  When it comes to our courts, it’s imperative that they be open and accessible to everyone, especially the press.

At the same time, the truth can be painful for parties involved in the legal process.  It’s not fun having your fights and faults aired in front of the general public.

In American history, we have weighed these interests and erred on the side of openness and access to the courts, and it has served us well.  The alternative is an invitation for unequal justice under a blanket of secrecy.  Just think about your personal life.  Isn’t it easier to do something wrong if you know no one’s watching.  The temptation lurks for our judges as well.  Remember, there are imperfect human beings under those robes.

With that said, on to the points of this post, starting with some background: 

From what has been reported, wealthy Fayetteville businessman Mike Lallier has been accused by one or more minors of sexual abuse or assault.  He has settled some portion of these claims against him.

Minors can’t enter into settlement contracts (or any other contract) under North Carolina law, so civil settlements with minors must be “court approved” in order to be legally enforceable. This means that a Superior Court judge has to investigate and review the settlement and ensure it is in the minor’s best interest in light of all of the circumstances.  Even the attorney fees are reviewed to ensure the minor is being protected.  Here’s a good blog post if you want more detail on the minor settlement procedure.

So how did the court approval process go in the Lallier case(s)?  We don’t know.

Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons recused himself from hearing the case and brought in a special judge from out of county.  The special judge decided to seal the entire file.  He even sealed the order sealing the file!

The Fayetteville Observer sued and argued that sealing the file violated the paper’s rights under the 1st Amendment.  The case went up to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  Multiple Fayetteville law firms argued the file should remain sealed, including (from the court’s opinion):

  • Player McLean, LLP, by James A. McLean, III
  • McCoy Wiggins Cleveland & McLean PLLC, by Richard M. Wiggins
  • Beaver, Courie, Sternlicht, Hearp & Broadfoot, P.A., by H. Gerald Beaver and David T. Courie, Sr.

In a victory for the 1st Amendment and public access to the courts, the Observer won the case.  Here’s a link to the the opinion if you’re interested:  Doe v. Doe

Judge Donna Stroud (my former law professor at Campbell) summed up the special nature of the case, writing for the court:

We have been unable to find any other case in North Carolina in which the entire court file, including the court orders sealing the file, has been sealed.  This level of protection from public access is unprecedented in North Carolina and has occurred in only very few cases throughout the United States.  Even in cases dealing with highly sensitive matters such as national security, only specific portions of files are sealed or documents are redacted as needed, instead of sealing the entire file.  

Now, unless the North Carolina Supreme Court gets involved, the file will be unsealed with the minor’s names redacted, which is an entirely reasonable result in this blogger’s opinion.

If you want access to the file after it is unsealed, its available to you at the Cumberland County Courthouse.  That’s how our system is supposed to work, and you have the founders of the United States Bill of Rights and the Fayetteville Observer to thank for that.

Our rights are meaningless if they are not exercised.

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The original Bill of Rights: it’s worn, but it still works.

Reading the Absentee Leaves

By: Andrew Porter

There is a concept in criminal law know as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Under this doctrine, any evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution is inadmissible in court. Moreover, any obtained evidence stemming from a violation is also inadmissible, hence the “fruit of the poisonous tree” analogy. I never thought it applicable to politics, but Bladen county may have opened the proverbial can of worms, and we all know worms love fruit.

 

The North Carolina State Board of Elections has refused to certify the election results from the 9th Congressional District due to absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County. The irregularities are under investigation, however, it appears very likely that another election will be called for the 9th Congressional District. But what about the other races on those ballots? Will new elections be called for those as well? Moreover, how far do the roots of the poisonous tree go?

 

The 9th District extends multiple counties, therefore, any tainted, or missing, ballots in one county will trigger a new election for the entire district. Thankfully, there have been no irregularities found with the absentee ballots collected in Cumberland County. However, it appears that people are trying find some.

 

A point of interest raised recently on Facebook is the amount of absentee ballots submitted in Cumberland County this year compared to 2014; 2,336 ballots in 2018, 1,212 ballots in 2014. For those who like gaudy numbers, that’s a 96% increase. I’m also assuming that the absentee ballots were categorized and tallied in the same manner for both years, which may not be true. However, I am not surprised by the increase. There has been a concerted Get Out The Vote effort by state organizations encouraging folks to vote absentee. For instance, I, a registered Democrat, received an absentee ballot request form from the Center for Voter Information, and my unaffiliated ex-girlfriend, who still gets mail at my house for some God awful reason, received an absentee ballot request form from the Voter Participation Center. I’d bet my bottom dollar that these two organizations are affiliated with one another. Moreover, the former chair of the Cumberland County Democratic Party, Dr. Vikki Andrews, said she also received the same forms.

 

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It’s not surprising that more folks decided to request absentee ballots when they were provided with the forms, especially those in rural areas. Unfortunately, this played right into the hands of those accused of creating the irregularities in Bladen county. If you received absentee ballots from a third party, then why can’t a third party pick them up and deliver them for you? I believe this honest misconception among voters is what poisoned the results in the 9th Congressional District. Hopefully, we should know soon how far the blight has spread, but it is my hope, and belief, that it stops at the county line.

“Train-ing Days”

By: Andrew Porter

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Fayetteville is loud. From every corner of the city, you can hear, and feel, Fort Bragg training. Motorcycles and cars, seemingly with outside speakers, don’t make it any better. Oh, and let’s not forget the occasional gunshots. My point being that it’s hard to regulate sound in an urban environment, but that’s what Councilman Dan Culliton wants to do in downtown. He wants to implement a “quiet zone” that will prevent trains from sounding their horns as they travel through downtown. Trains blast their horns to warn traffic and pedestrians of their impending arrival. A “quiet zone” will require the installation and maintenance of railroad crossing gates in lieu of the train horns. Culliton’s interest in a “quiet zone” has garnered the praise of some and the ire of others. It seems everyone has an opinion on Mr. Culliton’s project.

 

Dan Culliton

Mr. Culliton is in his first term on the Council, and I believe made a “rookie” mistake by bringing up the proposal without vetting it thoroughly. I do believe that Mr. Culliton has conducted a fair amount of research into the issue, however, an effective policy maker must have definitive answers to certain questions, such as funding. The source of funding at this point is unknown, but Mr. Culliton has expressed optimism that the “quiet zone” can be completely funded by a federal grant. Mr. Culliton should have waited until he had a better idea of how to fund the project before approaching the rest of the Council. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and this can be a great learning experience for Mr. Culliton.

 

Additionally, what seems to have also caught the ire of the public, is that Fayetteville has many other issues that need addressing. It’s not to say that Mr. Culliton is not working on these issues, but this is the first issue that Mr. Culliton has gone out of his way as an individual member of the Council to address; obviously because it’s an issue that has been brought to his attention by his constituency. Moreover, this is a very easy issue to understand. People know why trains blow their horns. Mr. Culliton’s critics have admonished him for sacrificing the safety of the many for the convenience of a few. Another criticism that would have gone ungarnered if Mr. Culliton would have fleshed out the issue more. I am personally indifferent to the issue, but I do fear that Mr. Culliton may be forever known as “the train horn guy.”

 


Porter_Richard (1) (002)About the Author:  Andrew Porter is a resident of Fayetteville.  He has been an adviser and manager of several local and and state campaigns, with a W/L record of 11-2.  He is undefeated in “non-NCGA-gerrymandered districts,” believes proper BBQ is served with coleslaw and vinegar, and is in his 3rd year as a legal eagle at North Carolina Central.

When it all happens, nobody wins (NC-09)

While no one was lookin’ on the old plantation
He showed her what they do down the long valley road
She came back around like nothing really happened
And left him standing on the old valley road

Down the road in Bladen County, in between the Melvin’s hamburgers (all-the-way with hot sauce) and Houston’s peanuts, a campaign surrogate being paid by Congressman-Elect Mark Harris rounded up a whole bunch of absentee ballots from unsuspecting poor people.  He did something with these ballots, but no one knows what.  An investigation has ensued.  The man is a convicted felon, for fraud no less.

There’s evidence the ballot “harvesting” happened in both the Republican primary and the general election that Harris won by less than 1,000 votes.  Amazingly, a woman working for this guy admitted to the whole thing on tape, shrugged it off, and threw the guy under the bus:

North Carolina is now in the national news.  How we react to this blatant fraud will say a lot about whether we care about the integrity of our state’s electoral system or instead have thrown all that aside in a scorched-Earth war for partisan political power.

If we rubber-stamp this fraud, say by minimizing its effect on the overall vote tally, I’m afraid to say that we’ve lost who we are as a people.   Do we care about election integrity as our leaders proclaimed when they put a voter-ID amendment on the ballot, the same ballot that was rounded up by this crook in Bladen County?

If we do care, the answer is simple:  it’s time for a new election.  This will be expensive and we may face an empty seat in Congress until it happens, but that’s fine.

Sometimes you have to walk the long way around to get back home.

Cross Creek Divide Featured on Longleaf Podcast

“We chat with the author of Cumberland County’s new political blog Cross Creek Divide on the state of Fayetteville politics, Cumberland as a bellwether county, the turmoil in the 9th Congressional District, and the value that political bloggers bring to the marketplace of ideas.”

 

Click on this link to listen.

 

This is a great blog and podcast for North Carolina politics.  Check it out here:

Podcast site:  https://anchor.fm/longleaf-politics

Blog:  https://longleafpolitics.com/