Tuesday, February 26, 2008

House determined to move on Wright

House determined to move on Wright
For a long time you couldn’t have moved the state House with a bulldozer and a dragline over allegations of misdeeds by then-Speaker Jim Black and those close to his leadership team, including former Rep. Michael Decker.
Black and Decker are serving time in federal prison these days. And now you couldn’t stop a House committee looking into charges of campaign finance misdeeds by state Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, an ally of the former speaker.
Rep. Wright has been indicted by a Wake County grand jury on charges of failing to report receiving or spending up to $350,000 in campaign contributions over the years. His trial on those charges was to have begun in early March, but Superior Court Judge Henry Hight postponed the trial to a date to be determined so Rep. Wright’s lawyer can finish examining thousands of pages of exhibits prosecutors may use against his client.
But a House ethics committee considering whether to sanction Rep. Wright is pushing forward with its own inquiry and doesn’t intend to delay its proceedings, said committee chairman Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. Monday the committee issued 11 subpoenas for witnesses in a hearing to be held on Rep. Wright. The process could lead to Rep. Wright’s expulsion from the General Assembly, though one of his attorneys has argued the House doesn’t have that power.
Prof. Irving Joyner, an NC Central law professor, has also argued the House shouldn’t move now on Wright because it would unfairly prejudice the criminal case against him in Wake Superior Court. But Glazier wasn’t buying that argument. The charges against Wright damage the reputation of the General Assembly and also deprive Wright’s constituents of effective representation.
Hmmmmm. That’s pretty much the same arguments that many of Speaker Black’s critics were making in the long run-up to federal and state charges against him and his subsequent guilty pleas and resignation from the House.
Meanwhile, Wright is running for re-election, and the speculation is whether Wright can win renomination for another term before the House formally sanctions him – or before there’s a verdict in his trial in Wake Superior Court. Stay tuned.
And by the way: Yes, Prof. Joyner is the same lawyer who did much of the work 30 years ago on the case of the Wilmington 10, where he represented Rep. Wright’s brother Joe, who was falsely accused and sent to prison on charges of firebombing a grocery store in Wilmington in 1971. Courts later overturned his conviction.
{Wednesday addition: I should have said Joyner represented the interests of Joe Wright and the other members of the Wilmington 10; Joyner was director of the United Church of Christ's Commission on Racial Justice at the time and was instrumental in focusing public attention on the Wilmington 10 and urging their release. He was critical of then-Gov. Jim Hunt's decision not to pardon the 10, though Hunt did cut their sentences, including Joe Wright's.]
Joyner also was vice chair of the Wilmington Race Riot Commission, which oversaw the legislature’s investigation into the 1898 overthrow by white supremacists of the legally elected Fusionist government in Wilmington that comprised Republicans and black citizens. That investigation also explored the role of the state’s leading newspapers, The Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh, in pushing the white supremacist campaign along.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jack --

You note the similarities between the cases of Joe Wright and Rep. Thomas Wright But, what are the significant differences, aside from the obvious differences in accusation and setting?

Is Rep. Wright being railroaded?

Jack Betts said...

No. I think both Wake prosecutors and the ethics committee are being careful to present evidence in an orderly way, but a judge has postponed the trial an undetermined time while the ethics committee believes it must press ahead now.

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