MARION, N.C. — Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Poovey of the 25B Judicial District of the Seventh Division of the Superior Court, serving Catawba County in North Carolina heard motions Monday from Prosecutor Ted Bell and Defense Attorney Anthony Morrow in the Jennifer Tierce case. District 29A Superior Court Judge Tommy Davis has recused himself from the matter.
Tierce is charged with attempting to extort money from a former District Court Judge Randy Pool. Tierce and former judge Randy Pool were allegedly involved in a sexting relationship, which included the sending lecherous photographs. Tierce had requested financial assistance from Pool and when denied, she referenced making the relationship’s communications public in response. Pool left the bench after an SBI investigation was opened into the matter.
Since the motions were lengthy and possibly included ethical violations as alleged by both parties, Judge Poovey took a few minutes to review the arguments in private before hearing the case. He later advised both parties to take their ethics issues about each other to a more appropriate venue such as the SBI or NC State Bar Association.
There were three major motions presented:
I. District Attorney’s Request for Protective Order to Seal Discovery Documents
Bell made a motion for a protective order on keeping discovery evidence sealed. Despite Bell’s own willingness to appear on WLOS-TV on the Tierce/Pool case, Bell did not want further evidence given to the press (WLOS-13) citing that statutes protected witnesses against undue embarrassment.
Judge Poovey immediately responded that all criminal cases could be embarrassing.
Bell countered however that protection should be afforded for those not charged in this crime. The discovery evidence was not entered into admission to court, but Bell’s statement was provocative in suggesting that there were others identified in the investigation. Pool’s electronic communications had been obtained according to earlier filings. Bell had brought an SBI special agent into the courtroom, but she did not testify.
Poovey ruled that the discovery evidence be sealed over defense attorney Morrow’s aggressive arguments. Morrow had argued the sealed documents undermined his First Amendment right.
Poovey said the order was necessary “to protect the integrity of the case.”
2) Defense Request for a special prosecutor
Morrow asked that Bell be replaced with a special prosecutor due to his alleged knowledge of Pool’s misconduct. Poovey acknowledged that it was not unusual to see the Attorney General or Assistant Attorney General prosecute such a case. Morrow argued Bell’s knowledge of the former judge’s behavior and his interview statement that “Pool’s actions did not rise to the level of a crime; therefore, he would not face criminal charges” made other victims reluctant to come forward.
Morrow also stated that other witnesses would likely also ask for protection from prosecution. Morrow added that witnesses were concerned about a corrupt justice system and knowledge of other ethical concerns.
Morrow stated Corey MacKinnon, Assistant District Attorney, had contacted Tierce during office hours via social media during the investigation. MacKinnon acknowledged in his Facebook messages to Tierce that he was aware of Pool’s alleged misconduct, but chose not to raise the issues in his campaign for District Court judge against Pool.
However, Bell told the court MacKinnon only knew of the rumors about Pool in 2016, but nothing from his office. Bell said MacKinnon was not aware of the facts of a case against Tierce or any investigation when he messaged her.
Poovey acknowledged that none of his rulings protected MacKinnon from being called as a witness in the case. However, neither did that fact disqualify the district attorney’s office from prosecution.
Morrow argued that the actions of the D.A.’s office caused credibility issues. However, the judge stated that it was the jury’s duty to determine the truth.
He also reminded Morrow the voters of District 29A had elected Bell to represent them as district attorney before dismissing his motion to disqualify Bell from the case. Given the case law presented to Bell as to the conditions that a district attorney could be cited with conflicts of interest and removed from a case, Judge Nathaniel Poovey ruled that Bell could continue as prosecutor in the case.
3) Defense Motion for the turnover of discovery evidence
Judge Poovey asked for an order requiring turnover of all discovery evidence to the Defense by 5 p.m. Friday.
Perhaps most telling was a comment made outside of court by a former district attorney’s employee: “You just never can tell what you might walk into.”
The case was put on the March 30 court calendar and will be subject to reschedule depending on which judge will be on the bench on that date.