Friday, November 30, 2007

Easley: Won't 'grind my heel' in immigrants' faces

Gov. Mike Easley says it’s in the state’s interests to allow undocumented immigrants to attend community colleges if they qualify and if they pay out-of-state tuition. That essentially puts him in accord with a new community college system policy – and in opposition to both Democrats and Republicans running for governor to replace him. In a phone interview this morning, here’s what Easley said:

“Here’s my position. The people we are talking about were brought here as babies and young children through no fault of their own. They distinguished themselves throughout our K-12 (public school) system. Now, I’m not willing to grind my heel in their faces and slam the door on them. The Community College System has to be open to them in order for them to be productive members of our society and help North Carolina and America compete in the world economy.”

That’s contrary to what candidates for governor are saying. “That doesn’t surprise me,” Easley said, “but I think both the Democrats and the Republicans, if they are elected governor, will revisit this issue and will view it through a totally different lens. Because if they set a policy that is destined to build a weaker North Carolina, then they will reap the [consequences] of that.”

Denying illegal immigrants access to community colleges “doesn’t penalize the immigrants, it penalizes this state and innocent children."

Easley says this problem exists because of Congress’ failure to deal honestly with immigration problems, including sealing the borders and reforming immigration policy, “so the citizens of North Carolina don’t have to make these agonizing decisions that are creating a lot of hate and anger.”

Easley says he knows his view runs contrary to that of many North Carolinians. “It’s going to be a hell of a Christmas,” he noted. “Everybody in the world is going to be picketing the mansion.”

A question of innocence

A question of innocence
Here’s a good question about the case of Lee Wayne Hunt, represented by former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. and law professors Rich Rosen and Kenneth Broun. They’re arguing to the N.C. Supreme Court that Mr. Hunt is entitled to a review of his case. They think he’s innocent of involvement in the murder of a Fayetteville couple, and they want the courts to consider testimony from a defense lawyer that his now-deceased client took full responsibility for the murders.
The question is this: Why didn’t the lawyers file this case before the new N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission?
That’s the commission created after a study commission was appointed by then-Chief Justice Lake to consider how North Carolina examines credible claims of actual innocence by those behind bars. One of the lawyers appointed to Lake’s study commission was Rosen, a law professor at the UNC School of Law.
Wouldn’t the Innocence Inquiry Commission have been a logical place to file the case?
Sure, says Rosen, but he and his colleagues were already pursuing the Hunt case in the state courts before the Innocence Inquiry Commission was up and running. “We were already too far along,” Rosen said in a phone interview. Waiting for the commission to get cranked up might have required another year’s wait, and the Hunt case was set for a hearing in Superior Court last January, he said.
Under the law setting up the Innocence Inquiry Commission, the lawyers wouldn’t be able to file the case before the commission if it doesn’t win in the state courts – unless some new evidence turns up.
“We had to make the call and this was our choice, right or wrong,” says Rosen.
More on this later.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lake a 'lifelong Republican'? No

The Observer’s David Ingram called my attention to a story Wednesday in the Washington Post about the involvement of former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. in the case of Lee Wayne Hunt, who has spent a couple decades in prison for murder. He was convicted partly on the basis of a discredited process linking him to the bullets used in the murder.
Lake’s involvement was interesting because he’s a Republican who stirred up a little controversy when he created a study that lead to the Innocence Inquiry Commission. I wrote a Tuesday blog item about that.
On Wednesday the Post reported:
“Lake, a lifelong Republican, also was instrumental in the creation last year of North Carolina’s Innocence Commission, which reviews cases of convicts who say they are innocent.”
Well, no. It is probably accurate to call Lake a lifelong conservative, but he has been a Republican less than half his life. He was a Democratic state senator when I came to Raleigh in the late 1970s, though he soon became a Republican to run, unsuccessfully, against Gov. Jim Hunt in 1980.
Of course, I’ve made this kind of error myself, so I shouldn’t be too critical of the Post. In a blog the other day about Lake’s involvement, I called Gerda Stein a lawyer. She wrote back: “I am not a lawyer, I’m a social worker at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. (used to be a mitigation investigator, now public information person). But my parents, especially my father the lawyer, will be proud!”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Former Chief Justice Lake seeks justice for Hunt

CBS’s 60 Minutes and the Washington Post recently featured stories about the strange case of Lee Wayne Hunt, who has been in prison for a couple of decades for a double murder. There’s no doubt two people were murdered, but there is doubt that Hunt killed them. For one thing, key forensic evidence against him was a process that scientists now repudiate as unreliable and misleading, and that the FBI no longer uses. For another, a defense lawyer now says his deceased client took full responsibility for the murder and that Mr. Hunt was not present when the victims were killed.
Mr. Hunt’s legal team has filed a motion with the N.C. Supreme Court asking the court for review. His lawyers are UNC law professors Rich Rosen and Kenneth Broun – and former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a conservative Republican.
"All I know is when he learned the facts of the case, he felt very
strongly that a great injustice had been done," says Gerda Stein, who works with the lawyers involved in this case. "Remember, he created the
Innocence Commission, so I think he looks closely at some of these
While he was chief justice, Lake created a study commission to determine a better way to look at credible claims of innocence, which led to creation of a new state commission to examine those cases. Lake wasn’t interested in freeing criminals; he was interested in finding out about cases where the innocent have been imprisoned, because that might mean our criminal justice system had not caught the real criminal, who might still be out on the streets.

Here’s a summary of the Hunt case from an Observer editorial the other day:
Observer Staff - Editorial
If you watched CBS’ "60 Minutes" last Sunday night, you were probably disturbed to hear about the case of Lee Wayne Hunt. He has spent the last two decades in N.C. prisons for a double murder, convicted in part with the use of an FBI process no longer considered reliable and that the agency hasn’t used in more than two years.
That’s not all. A defense lawyer says a deceased client took sole responsibility for the murders before Mr. Hunt’s trial, but because of attorney-client privilege the lawyer couldn’t tell anyone what he knew.

Put these two things together and you’ve got one more mind-boggling example of what can go wrong in our criminal justice system. It seems to be a case begging for a new trial, but so far Mr. Hunt’s lawyers have gotten nowhere. The N.C. Court of Appeals not long ago refused to take a look at his request for a new trial. Now the N.C. Supreme Court will be asked to review a lower court decision denying him a new trial, but unless the justices view the FBI process as flawed or the lawyer’s assertions as credible, Mr. Hunt may spend the rest of his days in jail.
None of this means Mr. Hunt is innocent. He has a long record as a drug dealer. But because the FBI no longer uses so-called bullet lead analysis technique, there is no forensic evidence that Mr. Hunt was involved in the murders. At his trial, The Washington Post reported, an FBI analyst testified that lead in bullet fragments from the victims of a double murder near Fayetteville matched the lead in bullets "connected to" Mr. Hunt’s co-defendant.
The FBI stopped using the lead analysis technology after the National Academy of Sciences said it was "unreliable and potentially misleading." Yet the FBI hasn’t alerted defense attorneys about the discredited analysis in this case.
Equally troubling is a disclosure by defense lawyer Staples Hughes. He says his client Jerry Cashwell told him he had killed Roland and Lisa Matthews after an argument while watching television with them. Mr. Hughes thought attorney-client privilege prohibited him from talking about his client’s confession. After his client committed suicide in prison, Mr. Hughes came forward with the story.
The state’s reaction, however, has been even more discouraging: A judge has referred Mr. Hughes for possible disciplinary action for possible violations of lawyer-client privilege. That’s despite a 2003 N.C. Supreme Court ruling that, despite attorney-client privilege, a lawyer may be compelled to disclose what a deceased client told him about a crime.
Based on recent revelations about Mr. Hunt’s trial and Mr. Hughes’ client, it seems obvious a new trial is in order. But this is North Carolina, and official resistance to assertions there’s something wrong with the criminal justice system here runs wide and deep. Where is justice?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Easley-Dole: He said, she said

Gov. Mike Easley and Sen. Elizabeth Dole provided their constituents with an entertaining exchange last week over each other’s handling of a Navy proposal for a jet landing field to practice aircraft carrier landings in Eastern North Carolina.
Both Easley and Dole oppose the field anywhere that local residents oppose it, and both have tried to help the Navy find a suitable place. And it is not opposed everywhere. Jones County commissioners have voted 3-2 “not to oppose” the field in the Hoffman State Forest. That may not be the same thing as support for the Navy, but it tells the Navy something about the doubts that even military-friendly North Carolinians have about the field.
I spoke with both Easley and Dole last week after their public exchange of prepared statements. Easley was exasperated because he thought Dole, as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, could be doing more to make the Navy understand it has to offer the state more. “This thing I cannot do by myself,” Easley said. “Elizabeth Dole has got to get involved in this. She can’t keep ducking it.... I’m not looking for a fight here. I’m looking for some help.”
Easley felt stung when Dole and fellow Sen. Richard Burr responded sharply to his suggestion the Navy come up with other proposals. They interpreted that as meaning “other sites,” but Easley says he meant other proposals that would help local communities and build support for a landing field.
“If it were me, I’d put together a good economic development package with the jobs for a major base, solving the long term problems (of overcrowding and noise at the Navy’s current base at Oceana, Va.), put that proposal out there and see if there’s support for that,” he said.
Dole also felt stung by Easley, especially his suggestion she hadn’t been able to guide the Navy in the right direction. She and her staff had been meeting with the Navy all along, encouraging it to find a better site for the field and also meeting with residents of northeastern counties that didn’t want the field at all. That’s why she responded that Easley needed to keep working with the Navy to find the right site.
“I wanted to give him a heads up it wasn’t personal, but I’m a Southern lady and I wanted him to know I wasn’t going to stand still for that,” Dole said.
She also was miffed because the governor hadn’t met with local officials and residents to talk about the landing field, but had helped the Navy pick the sites the governor now says he opposes.
“The one thing that is very clear is the governor decided to work with the Navy.... It’s very clear the governor did not talk to local officials. It’s clear that the process went poorly, and we have written to the Navy to say, ‘Sorry you didn’t learn anything from the last time’” when it failed to develop local support for previous landing field proposals, she said.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No sanction of judge's speech

The N.C. Judicial Standards Commission has no plans to sanction a state appeals court judge for urging voters to support a judge based on how he might vote in a case he’s sure will come up.
N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough told a Haywood County audience earlier this fall it ought to support a Supreme Court justice who would make sure Democrats don’t get away with gerrymandering after the next legislative redistricting process. While judges are allowed by judicial canons to speak to audiences and to discuss issues, they’re not supposed to talk about upcoming cases. And McCullough said in his comments that there’s likely to be a redistricting case.
The N&O reports that Judicial Standards Commission chairman Paul Ross said the commission made “an effort to ensure such conduct is not repeated.” Here's a link:
Sounds about right. While the state purports to have an elective process for judges, judicial candidates’ ability to campaign and attract votes often has to turn on such warm, fuzzy, non-issues as honesty, integrity and a good civic record. Candidates who want to talk about what they’d do in office run right up against the canon against discussing how they’d vote on a case. That’s why a lot of folks – Republicans and Democrats – support a different way of choosing judges: appoint them on merit and then let voters decide periodically whether to retain them.
The candidate McCullough urged voters to support, by the way, is Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds. McCullough did Edmunds no favor in predicting how he’d vote on a redistricting case. Judges are supposed to be impartial and judge each case on its merits, and that matches Edmunds’ reputation since his days as U.S. Attorney in North Carolina’s Middle District. He’s known as a smart, fair, independent judge.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Easley staff helped Navy pick OLF sites he opposes

That was an interesting broadside Gov. Mike Easley leveled at Sen. Elizabeth Dole Wednesday evening about the OLF. The governor opposes new sites in Camden and Gates counties that the Navy may consider in where to put the outlying landing field. and urged the Navy to find more alternatives. Sen. Dole and Sen. Richard Burr responded that his call was not helpful in resolving the issue. Then Easley's office issued a statement that said “It is time for Elizabeth Dole to learn that she represents the people of North Carolina, including those counties.”
What the governor didn’t say is how those sites got on the Navy’s radar in the first place: His administration helped put them there. This past spring and summer, his Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Bill Ross, working with Easley’s staff and with environmentalist Tom Earnhardt, among others, scoured sites for the Navy, rounded up information and helped the Navy consider putting them on a list of final sites.
More on this later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Easley: Navy OLF 'all burden, no benefit'

Gov. Mike Easley has weighed in again on the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field in Eastern North Carolina, saying a study group had found that local residents found the OLF “almost all burden and no benefits.”
The governor is asking Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and the congressional delegation to urge the Navy to seek other alternatives for a site.
A copy of the governor’s letter and the report from Judge Sidney Eagles’ Outlying Landing Field Study Group is available, the state says, on the Internet at under the “current events” heading on the top right side of the Web page.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sea level has been rising a long time

The sea level has been a lot higher and a lot lower than it is today, but it’s rising now and will continue to do so for a long time, the experts say. The current sea level bottomed out about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago and has been rising ever since – and at a more rapid rate lately.
Says who? So say experts on sea level rise and potential coastal change at the annual meeting of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association down at Carolina Beach, where I spent the last couple of days absorbing what they had to say. Their meetings are always interesting because our coast is the part of the state that’s physically changing so rapidly.
I’ll write more on this later, but if you’ve seen that satellite poster view of Eastern North Carolina, you’ve no doubt noticed one of the significant earlier coastlines, the Suffolk Scarp that runs right down through Pamlico County to about where the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch Ferry docks. That’s about 125,000 years old – a “stranded shoreline,” in geological parlance, and represents what a sea level rise of about 20 feet from where it is now would look like, says Dr. Dave Mallinson of East Carolina University.
His colleague, Dr. Stan Riggs, notes that the sea level was down about 425 feet from where it is now just 18,000 years ago.
He also had some data on how sea level has been rising since the century before the birth of Christ. He notes, “You’re not going to have to run out of the way of sea level rise.”
But it has sped up. From 100 B.C. to 1800 A.D., he says, sea level rise averaged 3.3 inches every century. From 1800 to 1900, it rose 12 inches. From 1900 to 2000, it rose 19.7 inches.
And for perspective, he notes, when the first colonists came to Roanoke Island in 1585, sea level was approximately four feet lower than it is today. That’s one reason those old maps look strange: so did our coastline.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Petty moving? Another sign of apocalypse

Just when you wondered whether the North Carolina we knew and love would survive the dramatic changes of the 20th Century before the dramatic changes of the 21st swamped us all, comes word that Petty Enterprises is leaving Level Cross.
What next? Will UNC Chapel Hill leave Chapel Hill for Raleigh? The Biltmore House move to Black Mountain? Pinehurst’s Carolina Hotel to Aberdeen?
Yikes! One thing Randolph County could count on for most of the second half of the 20th century was serving as the home of the Petty racing dynasty, founded by Lee Petty, made famous by Richard Petty and his 200 stock car racing wins, and carried on by his son Kyle Petty and the late Adam Petty, the fourth generation Petty racer.
I grew up in Guilford County just to the north and riding down to the Randleman area and the Petty compound, if that’s the right word, at Level Cross was a lot of fun. One summer I worked on a Pepsi truck and we’d fill the Pepsi-blue machines that sure looked like Petty-blue in the big white garage where Maurice Petty was the master mechanic of the Petty kingdom.
Another summer I worked for Bainbridge and Dance Well Drilling Co. near Guilford College, and riding down to Level Cross to fix the Petty pump was a highlight of that summer. (I think it was a bad foot valve on a jet pump, but we might have replaced it with a submersible.)
Now the word is that Petty Enterprises will be moving to Mooresville to join the other major speed shops of the racing world. That’s progress, I suppose, but one thing I always liked about the Pettys was they were just regular folks down home at Level Cross.
They probably still will be, but the idea that Petty Enterprises would move strikes me as about as outlandish a notion as, well, dropping North Wilkesboro Speedway as a site for a major NASCAR race.... Hang on, what’s that? Oh. Never mind.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mavretic: Country needs that kid pilot

Former House Speaker Joe Mavretic has a message for Brian Morris, the 17-year-old pilot who got in trouble for flying a single-engine aircraft at low altitudes over a football stadium: He’ll help pay the cost of any fines against Morris.
Mavretic, an outspoken legislator, Democrat and former Marine who flew jet fighters when he was in the service, says Morris may be in hot water now, but he thinks the teenager is just what the military needs.
“He’s the kind of guy I want to replace me and my Marine pilot buddies defending this country,” says Mavretic, who had 3,000 hours while flying jets in the Marine Corps.
The Federal Aviation Administration may suspend the teenager's license, but Mavretic points out he won’t need it. “He doesn’t need a thing from the FAA to go fly FA 18s,” Mavretic said. “He’s just what we need. Take him to Pensacola” (where the Navy trains pilots).
Mavretic was House speaker for one term (1989-90) when a coalition of Democrats and Republicans ousted four-term Speaker Liston Ramsey.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

McCrory's first win an '--- kicking'

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory’s reelection Tuesday was another in a long line of political victories, probably made sweeter by voters’ decision to retain a transit tax the mayor had supported. The win gives McCrory, a Republican, a seventh term as mayor, quite a political accomplishment for a candidate who was relatively unknown when he first ran for city council.
But one of McCrory’s first political opponents says McCrory’s first win more than three decades ago also was a big one. Marshall Hurley, a prominent Republican and well-known Greensboro lawyer, was a boyhood neighbor of McCrory’s at Ragsdale High School on Greensboro’s southwest side. McCrory’s parents were Democrats, and Hurley and McCrory – friends then as now – ran against one another for student body president at Ragsdale in the early 1970s. Hurley was a Republican, and McCrory ran against the “pseudo elite,” whoever that was.
But McCrory “didn’t just defeat me,” recalls Hurley. “He kicked my ---.”
Hurley isn’t the only Guilford County victim of McCrory’s political popularity.
Democratic state Rep. Beverly Earle of Mecklenburg also grew up in Greensboro, attending Dudley High School on Greensboro’s east side in the days before school desegregation had a significant effect. She challenged McCrory for mayor but McCrory took 61 percent of the votes Tuesday – well over landslide proportions. She knows how Marshall Hurley felt.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Farm Report: A shot in the dark

When I heard the crack of the shot I levitated off the camp bed and hit the floor, scrambling for boots and jeans. Bam!
Had to be a rifle. Somebody was up on the dirt road at the far end of the high meadow, spotlighting deer in the field and shooting down my way.
We built a little shack down in the woods a few years ago that will be a workshop when the new log cabin is finished – if it ever gets finished. Until then, I sometimes stay in the shack overnight.
I was all set to dash out the door and away from the field of fire when I heard more shots. Bam! Bam!
Then I realized what it was: acorns dropping from tall oaks onto the sheet metal roof of the barn we built two years ago.
It’s amazing how loud they can be. And funny what things sound like in the middle of the night when you’re still groggy and can’t quite put two and two together. Those acorns were dropping like lead shot in the gentle breeze coming over the mountain. It’s one of nature’s little practical jokes. It certainly got my attention.
The adrenaline rush had pretty much taken the sleep out of the night so I put a pot of coffee on the old Coleman camp stove and waited for false dawn.
It’s usually pretty quiet in our woods, but they’re full of life.
There are deer – including a 10-point buck, one of our regular hunters tells me. There are black bears, wild turkeys and a growing number of coyotes on the mountaintop.
I haven’t seen the bears but walked up on seven whitetail deer nosing around in the grass the other morning. We watched one another for a while, but they got tired of it before I did and moved off into the line of trees down the hill.
This autumn wasn’t supposed to be that pretty, what with the lingering drought and all, but this one is special. When the sky first glows pink over the far ridge, then gives way to the first rays scouting for targets among the trees, it’s a breathtaking sight.
I built a deck on the shack facing east and south so I could watch the morning sun as it works its way over Bull Mountain and up the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge.
In a short while the woods go from black to murky to shades of gray, then begin to glow with color as the sun hits the back of the leaves at a low angle. The day lights up with gold and stays that way.
I love these seasons of change. A few weeks ago a green summer coat still hung on the maples, beech, oak and locust in these woods. A three-day storm 10 days ago stripped away a lot of those leaves and thinned out the woods.
Behind me the next ridge west is beginning to emerge from our tree line. When I come back in two weeks all the trees will be bare, and the way the land rolls and folds and rises and falls will be plain. There’s not much bright color in the winter landscape, but there are worlds of things to see.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When it rains, it doesn't pour everywhere

Most folks understand right away that when you get five or six inches of rain during a prolonged drought, it’s not nearly enough to make up for a shortfall of 12 inches or more. Simple math.
Most folks also realize that where it rains is also an obvious indicator. But why is it that heavy rain in, say, the next community or county over doesn’t help where you live?
There’s another easy explanation, and you can find it in color. North Carolina has 17 river basins, and if it doesn’t rain a lot in the basin where you live, that water goes elsewhere.
Gov. Mike Easley presided over a briefing the other day to talk about the continuing drought. His advice to North Carolinians: “Don’t spend the rain.”
But nothing was more vivid than a map of where the rain fell from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26.

Displaying county lines (but, alas, not the county names) and an overlay of the river basin shapes, it makes clear that the two main N.C. beneficiaries of the rainfall were the Cape Fear River Basin, running from southern Rockingham and Alamance counties down toward Wilmington, and the Roanoke River Basin, from northern Rockingham and the Southern Virginia counties of Henry and Pittsylvania, got most of the heavy rains. The Neuse River Basin, which includes the population centers of Durham and Raleigh, and the Yadkin-Pee Dee and Catawba River Basins, which embraces the Charlotte region, got far less rain and benefited the same way: not so much. Western North Carolina’s river basins, some of which flow to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, got next to no beneficial rains. So if you’re wondering how much last week’s rains helped, take a look at the map.