One of the many entities responsible for overseeing the ethical conduct of legislators in North Carolina is the North Carolina Legislative Ethics Committee. The North Carolina Legislative Ethics Committee is a committee of members of the North Carolina General Assembly. Half of its members are state senators and half are state representatives. The Committee has jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of legislators while acting in their official capacity, and its investigations can lead to admonishment, censure, or removal of the legislator from office.
A number of our lawyers have experience handling government ethics investigations. For information about the procedures of the North Carolina Legislative Ethics Investigations, please read this primer.
If you have questions or need representation, please do not hesitate to contact us.
“Proposed cuts to NC Prisoner Legal Services make no sense”
Published: May 25, 2013 – http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/25/2915465/costly-cuts-to-legal-services.html
By Bradley Bannon
In Bounds v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states are constitutionally required to provide prisoners with “meaningful access” to the courts. The occasion for that ruling? North Carolina’s ongoing failure to provide that access. And after 13 years of litigation, we finally figured out a way to do it: N.C. Prisoner Legal Services.
Now, for reasons that make no legal, economic or moral sense, the state Senate wants to eliminate PLS.
PLS is a private, nonprofit organization under annual contract to provide inmates with meaningful access to the courts. That’s not an option for North Carolina. It’s a constitutional mandate, and for 30 years, PLS has satisfied it.
We have 37,000 inmates in 66 prisons. In 2012, PLS received over 12,000 requests for assistance from them, including complaints about conditions of confinement and wrongful conviction or punishment. About 9 times out of 10, PLS counsels inmates that there is no viable legal claim. When there is, PLS often works with administrators to resolve it. When necessary, PLS litigates in court.
In 2012, for example, after settling seven cases involving the rape or sexual abuse of female prisoners, PLS settled three other abuse cases with the Division of Adult Correction in which DAC agreed to implement a number of systemic changes to protect female prisoners from retaliation for reporting abuse.
Last week, the Senate abruptly canceled the state’s $2.89 million annual contract with PLS in favor of an unfunded mandate to provide inmates with digital legal libraries within five weeks. The proposal – a classic solution in search of a problem – will cost much more than PLS.
In 2012, PLS corrected jail credit errors that generated over $1 million in savings to the state. In just one quarter, PLS corrected sentencing errors that generated over $500,000 in savings. So before discharging any of North Carolina’s other duties to inmates, PLS basically pays for its own annual budget by correcting jail credit and sentencing errors.
By contrast, digital legal libraries don’t pay for themselves. In addition to hardware costs, Ohio pays $1.15 million annually for its software service, and Pennsylvania pays $1.25 million for its libraries. North Carolina has over twice the prisons as either of those states. To provide similar libraries for inmates here would cost over $2 million.
The Department of Public Safety would also have to spend more taxpayer dollars on staff and educational and training programs to maintain the libraries and help inmates use them.
What about inmates who can’t read English, or read at all, or whose vision is impaired, or who suffer from any other disability that hinders access to the digital library? Failure to meet their needs would risk liability under Bounds and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as valuable federal funding tied to Title VI.
And what about the 7,000 inmates held in close custody, many of whom are kept in segregation? What about other security risks associated with giving inmates access to computers, rather than the human resources at PLS?
In the end, providing inmates with meaningful access to digital law libraries will cost North Carolina more than the entire contract for PLS. And that’s just the beginning.
The state will also have to provide access to pre-printed forms, copiers and other materials necessary for litigating pro se. The same language barriers and physical and mental disabilities that existed at the research stage will exist at the litigation stage.
Speaking of litigation, it’s difficult to overstate the additional costs and strain on judicial resources that will come from shifting post-conviction litigation from PLS to an entirely pro se model.
As the Supreme Court said about PLS programs in Bounds: “Independent legal advisers can mediate or resolve administratively many prisoner complaints that would otherwise burden the courts, and can convince inmates that other grievances against the prison or the legal system are ill-founded, thereby facilitating rehabilitation by assuring the inmate that he has not been treated unfairly.”
Of course, sometimes inmates are treated unfairly, and their confinement conditions do violate the law. That’s why states must provide them with meaningful access to the courts, and that’s why PLS lawyers and staff choose to provide that service. It certainly isn’t for popularity or riches.
PLS deserves praise, not extinction. While separating the wheat from the chaff of 12,000 annual inmate claims, PLS pays for itself, discharges the state’s constitutional duties to its inmates and saves untold costs of frivolous litigation. Putting digital law libraries in 66 prisons won’t do any of that.
The Senate proposal will end up costing more, providing less and sucking us back into years of unnecessary litigation. It could hardly be a worse idea.
Bradley Bannon is president of the Board of Directors of N.C. Prisoner Legal Services.
In North Carolina, candidates for office and many government officials are required to file a Statement of Economic Interest form with the North Carolina State Ethics Commission. These forms require disclosure of financial relationships and holdings in order for the North Carolina State Ethics Commission to address potential conflicts of interest in the exercise of a public official’s government duty. These forms become a public record when filed.
As the North Carolina State Ethics Commission’s website notes, failure to file a Statement of Economic Interest form by the deadline may result in a civil penalty, and knowingly concealing or providing false information on the form may result in criminal prosecution. Ultimately, however, negative publicity from ethics enforcement action may be one of the most important reasons to make sure to file this form accurately and on time.
The form is available online at http://www.ethicscommission.nc.gov/sei/blankForm.aspx.
If you have questions or need assistance, please feel free to contact a member of our Election Law, Campaign Finance & Government Ethics section or fill out a contact form on our website and we will be in touch.
In 2004, with significant input from Academy members, the North Carolina General Assembly made historic changes to our state’s criminal pretrial discovery rules and established “open-file discovery.” Before these changes, prosecutors had wide discretion when deciding what to provide from a criminal investigation to the defense before trial, and many criminal defendants were unfairly convicted as a result. Since the changes, prosecutors have attempted to limit open-file discovery in the legislature and the courts, while the Academy has fought to preserve it.
As criminal defense attorneys know, one of the great myths about media and the criminal justice system is that, while defense lawyers are running a round out there, preening for the cameras on the courthouse steps and trying their high-profile cases in the media, prosecutors and their teams stand stoically and silently by, “muzzled,” as a Raleigh newspaper columnist wrote earlier this year, “by prosecutorial ethics.” Of course, like so many other myths and legends, the reality is much different.
On October 1, 2004, the new pretrial discovery laws for felony criminal cases went into effect. By enacting the new discovery rules in criminal cases, the North Carolina General Assembly recognized the problems of evidence being withheld in violation of Brady v. Maryland and the prosecutorial misconduct plaguing the criminal justice system in North Carolina.
Raleigh attorney Joe Cheshire has added a Wilmington builder to his long list of distinguished – and sometimes checkered – clients.
When he was young, Joe Cheshire wanted to be a teacher and a coach.
“Those are my real loves,” he said, “to work with young people.”
But Cheshire chose another direction in life, and those with whom he has crossed paths are thankful that he did. Cheshire ([Wake Forest Class of] ’73), a Raleigh-based and nationally known criminal-defense attorney, on Tuesday, March 30, visited Wake Forest University as part of the “A Conversation With” series. The series, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is sponsored by the School of Law.
John Brady was 25 years old when he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He had bounced around from job to job and engaged in an affair with another man’s wife, Nancy Boblit Magowan, and was dealing with the fact that she was pregnant with his child. On June 22, 1958, Brady gave Nancy a post-dated check for $35,000 and told her he would have that amount of money within the next two weeks.