As previously reported, information regarding former Chief Judge Randy Pool’s misconduct and abuses of power with respect to many women appearing before him continues to surface throughout our judicial district. Although additional details regarding the scope and scale of Judge Randy Pool’s actions will be discussed in a forthcoming article, many in the community have expressed confusion, dismay, and even anger as to why our local officials allowed former Judge Randy Pool’s actions to continue for so long.
Equally concerning is why District Attorney Ted Bell has refused to charge former Judge Pool despite the misconduct reported by multiple women who have publicly described Judge Pool’s actions toward them. These concerns are underscored by Mr. Bell’s decision to proceed with criminal charges against one of Judge Randy Pool’s victims before the investigations into former Judge Randy Pool have concluded. The existence of the ongoing investigations was revealed by Mr. Bell in court filings pertaining to the ongoing prosecution of one of Judge Randy Pool’s victim.
On June 13, 2020, RC Catalyst reached out to Mr. Bell asking “when should we expect criminal charges against Randy Pool” in light of his “interference with the rights of all individuals involved” in a nearly yearlong legal proceeding. Mr. Bell failed to provide any response.
As the community continues awaiting actions by all other outside agencies investigating this matter, those unfamiliar with the legal community in this district remain puzzled as to the silence and inaction by the government officials.
In the following series of articles, RC Catalyst will provide a detailed depiction of the legal landscape in this district, as well as the role our government officials have played in constructing and maintaining the current political and legal dynamic. The purpose of this article is to ensure that the citizens of this district have the information they are entitled to know before voting decisions as to the future of the government under which they live.
LOCAL OFFICIALS BEGIN DESTROYING THE BARRIERS BETWEEN THE SEPARATE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT AND CONSOLIDATING POWERS INTO ONE CENTRALIZED UNIT
In early 2006, former Superior Court Judge Laura “Suzy” Bridges became the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge and issued an order creating the Judicial Council. At the time of its inception, the Judicial Council was comprised of all district court judges, the superior court judge, the district attorney, and the clerks of court in Rutherford and McDowell counties. Since this time, the councilmembers met at one of the member’s homes on a regular basis. They mandated that all meetings be kept secret and prohibited the creation of any records to document when meetings were held or what transpired during any such meeting. The Council also prohibited any non-members from attending, as well as prohibited attendance by members of the public. During these meeting, the Judicial Council discussed two main topics.
- First, the Judicial Council discussed “problematic attorneys.”
- Second, the Judicial Council discussed and predetermined specific cases outside of any court proceeding and without the parties or their attorneys present.
As to the Judicial Council’s discussion of problematic attorneys, the councilmembers discussed attorneys that were engaging in any actions that could upset the current political order or challenge decisions made by the Judicial Council. Coordinated retaliatory actions directed at any attorney they believed posed such a threat were also discussed.
- One significant topic that was frequently discussed was the councilmembers’ insistence that a public defender’s office not be created in this district due to fear that a public defender may threaten their control of the legal system and influence over political connections with other officials.
As to the Judicial Council’s discussions and pre-determination of pending cases, the councilmembers have, and continue to, engage in conduct prohibited by federal and state laws, as well as applicable canons of ethical behavior for which all attorneys and judges must conform their conduct.
As multiple sources have reported, members of the Council have described these meetings as en banc determinations of individuals cases. An en banc determination is term used to describe a decision process utilized by appellate court judges to meet and discuss cases with the entire membership of the court of appeals bench. While that practice is legally permissible for appellate courts when weighing cases of widespread legal significance or when evaluating cases involving particularly difficult legal issues, trial judges are prohibited from collectively discussing any case appearing before them.
More troubling, however, is that the district attorney participated in these meetings as well. One of the most fundamental tenants of the American legal system is that no parties may discuss, much less resolve, a pending legal matter with a judge without all other parties (and their attorneys) being afforded the opportunity to be present. The Council’s decision to do so now calls into question every single case that has been decided in the past fourteen (14) years.
The problems created by these meetings is compounded by the fact that they were conducted in direct violation of the North Carolina public meetings laws. Those laws were created for the express purpose of preventing government officials from gathering in secret to utilize their official positions in ways that are self-serving or done at the expense of the electorate. In general, when two (2) or more officials meet to discuss any matters involving the court, court administration, or any active cases, the officials must provide advance notice to the public, allow the public to attend and participate, and keep records of all matters that transpired during the meeting.
In other words, the Judicial Council not only violated the rights of every party whose case was discussed (or when rules and administrative matters were decided that impacted any such cases), it did so in a way that was designed to conceal the wrongful actions of the Council. Because the Council violated the very laws designed to ensure those affected would be able to determine the extent of which their cases may have been compromised, every litigant now has reason to question the outcome of his or her case and yet, due to the Council’s actions, has been deprived of the opportunity to identify the level of interference or tampering with any such case.
Aside from the concerns as to whether all parties that have received adverse ruling over the past fourteen (14) years are entitled to have their cases re-examined, this level of deliberate evasion of all legal requirements poses several ethical issues for the attorneys and judges involved. These actions further damage the trust between our judiciary, and our elected officials, and the community – a situation not needed in the wake of information continuing to surface regarding former Judge Pool.
THE MCDOWELL COUNTY BAR ATTEMPTED TO PREVENT THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL FROM ENGAGING IN ACTIONS THAT UNDERMINED THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE LEGAL SYSTEM
After learning of the Judicial Council’s creation, the McDowell County Bar actively attempted to dissuade the members from engaging in what they viewed as a subversion of the most critical components of a fair, impartial, and functional legal system. In fact, multiple attorney filed complaints with the Judicial Standards Commission expressing concerns with the impropriety of the existence, and actions, of the Judicial Council. Initially, the McDowell County Bar argued that the officials involved were statutorily prohibited from meeting to discuss any matters pertaining to the judicial system without complying with all applicable public meetings laws.
The Judicial Counsel resisted all efforts to stop the ongoing meetings, and refused to comply with the open meetings laws. However, the McDowell County Bar continued demanding all meetings stop and emphasized the concern with any meetings between judges, particularly in criminal cases in which the district attorney was actively participating, without the attendance of all affected parties and their attorneys.
In response, Judge Bridges agreed to appoint one member of the defense bar to attend Council meetings. While this concession, in no way cured the statutory and ethical violations described above, Judge Bridges appointed a young attorney, Brian Plemmons, who had just graduated from Chapel Hill Law School, as the defense bar representative. Judge Bridges’ appointment is notable because Mr. Plemmons had very little legal experience and would be unlikely to identify or address the pervasiveness of the legal violations involved.
Mr. Plemmons explained that a primary focus of the Judicial Council was the consolidation, and protection, of power at the expense of any that opposed the councilmembers. He described discussions between the councilmembers regarding their concerns with allowing a public defender’s office to be created in this district. The councilmembers expressed concerns that, if such a position were to be created, a particularly effective attorney may assume the position who could make the defense bar far more difficult to control. The councilmembers were also fearful that an organized and impactful public defender would “have the ear of politicians and cause them problems.”
MARVIN SPARROW DISBARRED
As an initial matter, Mr. Plemmons noted that several other attorneys were, on many occasions, present at the Council meetings. One such attorney is former attorney Marvin Sparrow. Although Mr. Sparrow’s involvement with the Council will be detailed in a subsequent article, Mr. Sparrow was disbarred in 2014 for his sexual exploitation of his clients.
Much as former Judge Pool has currently been subjected to no charges by District Attorney Ted Bell, Mr. Sparrow was only charged with minor offenses for his conduct. Presumably, those minor charges would immunize Mr. Sparrow from more significant criminal charges under double jeopardy principles that prevent recharging an individual based on the same facts involved in a prior prosecution.
Mr. Plemmons also described the Council’s concern with one particularly effective defense attorney (who will not be named, as the attorney at issue is now deceased) that the councilmembers developed a coordinated strategy to target. The Council made decisions to limit the continuances provided to this attorney, stop providing any type of favorable plea deals to his clients, and impose the most severe sentences on his clients that the law would allow.
Mr. Plemmons recalled watching the councilmembers enforce these sort of targeted decisions. He also explained that he continued seeing cases that resulted in inexplicable outcomes based on councilmembers’ personal interests.
Of note, one such case included a decision by former Judge Randy Pool in which he inexplicably switched custody from what he described as one of the most suitable and cooperative parents in a custody case to the other parent who had a multitude of serious problems that, in his experience, should have resulted in the exact opposite outcome. In light of the developing situation with former Judge Pool, Mr. Plemmons expressed serious concern as to the outcome of that case.
Mr. Plemmons quickly realized the impropriety of what was occurring with the Judicial Council and also the danger of attempting to, in any way, intervene and stop these meetings or the actions taken in accordance with them. Mr. Plemmons explained that he was a brand-new attorney and did not even know which agencies to approach for help.
Moreover, he described a situation where the Judicial Standards Commission had contacted former Judge Pool based on a complaint filed by another attorney. Mr. Plemmons recalled former Judge Pool discussing the complaint in a manner that, based on Mr. Plemmons’ recollection of the situation, made clear that the investigation process was a “farce.” Although Mr. Plemmons could not recall the specifics of what the complaint involved, no disciplinary action was ever taken against former Judge Pool.
Of note, during the time period involved, the Judicial Standards Commission was comprised of all judges and, as believed by many, served as more of an entity that protected judges rather than seeking to discipline them. In contrast with the previous structure of the Judicial Standards Commission that existed at that time, the current Judicial Standards Commission has been restructured to balance the Commission’s dual purpose of shielding judges from frivolous complaints, while simultaneously ensuring that incidents of serious judicial misconduct are aggressively investigated and addressed.
Although required to attend the Judicial Council meetings, Mr. Plemmons stated that he had to make a decision. If he continued practicing in this district, he indicated that “he was going to do something to make it different and wasn’t going to lay down on the fight.” However, he explained that he had “seen what the Council had done to other attorneys and knew they would destroy him.” Mr. Plemmons reached out to another attorney whom he trusted for advice and was told “get out of this while you still have time.” And [Mr. Plemmons] did shortly thereafter.
Mr. Plemmons stated that the councilmembers “knew he thought it was terrible” what they were doing. In following the advice of his colleague mentioned above, Mr. Plemmons explained that what he witnessed at the Judicial Council, which was implemented in judicial proceedings, “took away [his] faith in the legal system and his faith in this country to be honest.” Realizing that his only choices were to be complicit and remain silent as to what was occurring, or attempt to stop it and be “destroyed,” Mr. Plemmons stopped practicing law shortly after he had graduated from law school and has never practiced again as of the date of this article.
THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL MAKES ITS FINAL EFFORTS TO CONSOLIDATE ALL POWER OF EACH BRANCH OF OUR DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT
As noted above, the Judicial Council was concerned that the creation of a public defender’s office could jeopardize its ability to control all aspects of the legal system, as well as weaken their control over the political system for which the councilmembers must rely on in maintaining their official positions. In 2018, however, the entire bar of this district was informed that a public defender’s office had been created. The judges, courts of clerk, the district attorney, and all members of the bar represented that they had no knowledge of how the newly created public defender’s office had been created. None of the bar members were given notice or an opportunity to comment on this decision.
The sudden announcement was even more unexpected, as the statutorily mandated process for creating a public defender’s office was entirely ignored. That process requires that the Indigent Services Commission solicit comments from all of the judges, as well as provide the entire local bar with notice and an opportunity to comment. In reviewing the minutes of the Indigent Services Commission after the office had been created, the Indigent Services Commission noted that “IDS did not receive any notice or get the chance to offer input on” the creation of the public defender’s office in this district.
The minutes of that meeting reflect the concerns with the process by which the public defender’s office was created as follows:
“[David] Teddy noted that he had taken the day off work to come discuss the important issues related to the public defense and expressed concern that neither IDS nor the local bar knew that the PD office provisions were coming. He stated that IDS should have been consulted and asked for opinion . . . . Teddy remarked that he felt disrespected as a member of the IDS Commission that the General Assembly had decided to open a PD office in the western part of the state without letting IDS know and without the opportunity to let his constituents know . . . . He noted that this was a relevant issue that needed to be addressed before the next session.”
Despite these concerns, no additional discussions occurred to address the issues raised by Mr. Teddy in subsequent Indigent Services Commission meetings.
Shortly thereafter, the Resident Superior Court Judge of this district appointed a fellow judge – both of whom were members of the Judicial Council – to assume the position of public defender. The concern regarding the creation of a public defender’s office that could challenge the consolidated judicial and executive power of the Judicial Council was nullified by this appointment, particularly because the appointed public defender was then added as a member to the Judicial Council.
Notably, the appointed public defender then hired the local legislative official for this district as a member of the public defender’s office. It is currently unknown if the legislative official has been added to the Judicial Council. However, despite this legislative official’s representations that he was unaware of how the public defender’s office was created, it has been disclosed that the referenced official personally assisted drafting the legislative provision that created the public defender’s office, which he then asked one of his legislative colleagues to insert into a sweeping financial appropriations bill.
With these developments, the Judicial Council effectively collapsed the barriers created by the separation of powers between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches that have been in existence since the founding of our country. Those barriers exist to prevent the merger of all public officials that are elected to the most high-ranking positions within each branch. The existence of three independent branches was designed to ensure the government remained accountable to the people and that those elected to these positions could not combine their powers to immunize themselves from the will of the people and construct a tyrannical government that functions for the benefit of the elected officials at the expense of the electorate.
With the addition of the only remaining legal office that could have resisted the Judicial Council’s attempt to consolidate absolute control of all facets of the legal system, the stage was set for corruption to grow, and, indeed, flourish, and, as will be described in the scheduled forthcoming articles, it did.
However, at the time of the Council’s final addition, none of the councilmembers anticipated that one of their own would soon fall and risk exposing the actions of the entire Judicial Council, but, shortly thereafter, former Judge Pool’s reign of abuse came to an end and the effort to protect him at all costs began.
Editor’s Note — This article is part of an investigative series already queued to be published at scheduled times.