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'Hege Bill' hits roadblock. Lawmakers send back bill to bar felons from running for sheriff.

A state House bill that would bar felons running for sheriff — loosely known as the “Gerald Hege bill” — hit a roadblock Tuesday on the House floor.

After moving quickly through three House committees, House Bill 863 drew considerable debate on the House floor.

There were enough concerns about potential loopholes that a motion to send the bill back to Rules and Operations committee passed by a 62-52 vote, with Democrats and Republicans voicing concerns.

Legislators questioned, among other things, how a juvenile conviction for a felony could affect someone who wants to run for sheriff as an adult.

They also said some misdemeanors committed by teenagers could end in a felony conviction if the youth does not complete community service obligations.

The bipartisan bill does not name Hege, who was sheriff of Davidson County from 1994 until he resigned in 2004. On Tuesday, though no one said Hege’s name, lawmakers did talk about a sheriff from Davidson County who ran as a felon.

HB863 would mandate that any candidate for sheriff disclose all felony convictions, including expunged convictions, when filing as a candidate.

The bill would bar anyone with a felony conviction, even with an expunction, from being an eligible candidate. The legislation allows an exemption for an unconditional pardon of innocence.

Hege is apparently the only sheriff candidate in recent memory that the bill would affect. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to two felony counts of obstruction of justice after facing 15 felony counts.

HB863 was filed to clarify a state constitutional amendment that passed in 2010 that bars felons from running for sheriff. Hege ran for sheriff in 2010, but lost the Republican primary.

In 2018, Hege had his felony convictions expunged, benefiting from a law signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2017 that was designed to make it easier for felons to resume normal civic life.

He then ran again for sheriff, losing once again in the primary.

The expungment led to questions about whether Hege was still considered a felon under state law.

HB863’s co-sponsor Allen McNeill, R-Randolph, said HB863 would end such confusion.

“This clarifies that a felony expungement does not allow someone to serve as sheriff,” McNeill said.

“This is an attempt to close a loophole in the law that we’re trying to close forever, for anybody.”

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said his opposition came primarily from concerns that the bill would prevent a teenager or young adult who made a mistake in committing a felony for ever serve as a sheriff.

“There are a lot of crazy things in North Carolina that are a felony to commit that shouldn’t be,” Jackson said, citing the stealing of pine straw as an example.

Jackson cited minor drug convictions that can turn into a felony if the youth doesn’t fulfill their community-service obligations, or a prohibition on an individual with a youth felony conviction who can go into the U.S. military and serve honorably, leave and not be able to run for sheriff.

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, expressed concern that the bill contains a loophole for youths who are convicted of a felony outside North Carolina.

In some states, juvenile criminal records can be sealed, including if their felony conviction was expunged.

Speciale said the bill could affect North Carolinians over individuals who move into the state as an adult.

“Concerns about the bill seemed to range from legitimate concerns about its technical details to larger objections linked to a provision in the state Constitution,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

“Supporters say they’re just clarifying that the constitutional amendment means what it says — that no one ever convicted of a felony should be eligible in the future to run for sheriff.

“But it’s not clear that a majority within the state House is willing to extend that principle to criminal expunctions,” Kokai said.

The sending of HB863 back to the Rules committee “serves as a recent illustration that passing amendments to the state Constitution is often just the first step in implementing the policies embedded in these amendments,” said John Dinan, a political scientist professor at Wake Forest University and a leading expert on state legislatures.

“Issues and details tend to surface in the course of legislative deliberation that need to be addressed in a careful fashion.”

County commissioners would be prohibited from appointing an interim sheriff with a felony conviction, including expunged convictions.

HB863 would apply to 47 counties, including Alamance, Alleghany, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes and Surry counties in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina.

Those counties were identified because state law requires their commissioners to appoint an interim sheriff based on the recommendation from the previous sheriff’s county party.

A potential candidate who fails to file the felony disclosure would not be allowed to have their name on the ballot. Any votes for the candidate would not be counted.

Community gets look at preliminary designs for Wiley Magnet Middle School addition

About 45 people showed up at Wiley Middle School Tuesday for a look at preliminary designs for a planned 21,000-square foot addition.

The project includes a new gym, administrative offices and classrooms for the school on Northwest Boulevard in Winston-Salem.

At the public drop-in session, people from the community got a chance to talk to and ask questions of school officials, and representatives of West & Stem Architects, which did the designs, and Vannoy Construction, the contractor for the project.

“We’re trying to get input to see if there’s anything we haven’t really thought about as we were working on our design,” said Colon Moore, the director of construction planning and operations for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

The addition, which will attach to the existing school building, has a total project budget of $9.3 million, which was approved by voters in a 2016 bond request.

A boiler used for heating the school will be removed from the existing gym in May 2020, then moved to an existing mechanical room in the school building by October next year.

Demolition of the existing gym will start in June next year.

Construction on the new structure is expected to start about August 2020, and the addition should be ready for occupancy in spring 2022.

The construction schedule for the Wiley project is the same as the original plan, except for starting the design work several months early, said Moore.

“We felt that was probably good to move it up because it allowed us to make sure we have (the) design ready for the end of this coming school year,” Moore said.

“That’s the critical piece. We want to make sure that the project is ready to go in May so that we can take the boiler out.”

Although one existing classroom will be eliminated to make way for the new structure, Wiley will have a net gain of six classrooms.

The new addition will have two levels. On the top level will be administrative space, a gym, a lobby, restrooms and storage. The basement level will include four new classrooms, lockers and more storage.

The project also calls for the renovation of three areas within the school that will become three classrooms.

Once completed, the Wiley addition will give the school a new entrance.

“We’re not changing the look of the front of Wiley that faces Hanes Park,” Moore said.

“We’re changing where you come into the school. We’re trying to limit the people coming in and walking through our campus to get into the school. Now, you will literally cross Northwest Boulevard and walk in the front door.”

Michael West, principal at West & Stem Architects, said that the biggest challenge in working on the designs was the fact that there is not a lot of area to build the addition.

“It is a very tight site,” West said. “We didn’t have much leeway in any direction.”

Moore expects the schematic drawings to go before the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education in August for a vote.

The Wiley addition drawings also reference the drawings developed by Home Field Advantage for a stadium it wants built at nearby Reynolds High School.

“The addition is designed to not interfere with the design of the stadium,” Moore said.

School officials have said that the current memorandum of understanding between the school system and Home Field Advantage, which has raised more than $1 million for a stadium at Reynolds High, is that the group would privately pay for the stadium.

Community comment

People who attended the drop-in session said that Wiley needs a new gym.

Steve Bumgarner, a partner at Capture Public Relations & Marketing, came with his wife, Heather, and his son, Will, a student at Wiley.

“We think the world of Wiley and the staff and the teachers,” Bumgarner said. “We love the feel of the school — the small, historic school environment. I do think the gym drawings are a great way to bring security, a new entrance, as well as a needed new gymnasium from a safety and quality standpoint.

“And I’m excited about the new classroom space.”

Pat Crowley, the football coach at Reynolds High and the husband of WS/FCS school board member Leah Crowley, spoke of how he has one student currently at Wiley and another at Reynolds High.

“I think it’s a beautiful addition that they’re going to be doing, but it’s long overdue to replace the Wiley gymnasium,” Crowley said.

He said the old Wiley gym is in terrible shape.

“It’s got a slick tile floor,” Crowley said. “It’s not air-conditioned. There’s no access for disabled people. It sits down in a hole. You’ve got to go down about 40 steps to get down to the gym.”

He said eventually there will be a stadium in the area.

“It’s going to be a huge boost for Reynolds and for Wiley kids,” Crowley said. “Between the two schools, we’ve got 2,400 students and it’s going to be used by all the teams that use the field, the marching band.”

Julie Magness, a third-grade teacher at Diggs-Latham Elementary School, said she used to live in the neighborhood and knows that the Wiley gym needs to be replaced.

She also said that Reynolds High deserves a stadium, but she has concerns for other schools that have already been approved for bond money.

“We’ve got buildings that need roofs and air-conditioning systems that are in really bad shape that need to be a priority before you put monies into a stadium,” Magness said.

Behethland Clark, who lives in the neighborhood, looked over the drawings with her husband, Tom and daughter, Edie.

Clark said before she saw the drawings she was worried about the look of the new structure, that architecturally it might not fit in with the rest of the school.

But she said, “I think it’s nice and is going to tie in well.”

Her husband agreed, saying, “I think it ties in better than the part that they are tearing down.”

State law can’t prohibit transgender people from using bathrooms of their choice, settlement says. GOP leaders raise objections.

A federal judge signed a legal agreement that could end a long-simmering legal fight over which restrooms and other public facilities can be used by transgender people.

U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder signed the agreement, known as a consent decree. That agreement makes clear that state law does not prohibit transgender people from using whichever bathroom or other public facility they want. In other words, transgender women can use the women’s restroom and transgender men can use the men’s restroom.

The agreement would settle all of the remaining claims in a federal lawsuit that started three years ago over the controversial state law known as House Bill 2. Republican state legislators pushed that law through immediately after the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance expanding legal protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The passage of House Bill 2, which, among other things, required transgender men to use the women’s restroom and transgender women to use the men’s restroom, sparked an economic boycott of North Carolina in which businesses pulled expansion plans, musical artists cancelled concerts and sports tournaments such as the ACC moved their events. State legislators reached a compromise in 2017 that resulted in House Bill 142, but plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that the new law was too vague and transgender people remained uncertain if they would be prosecuted for using the wrong restroom.

Among the plaintiffs of the original lawsuit was a former UNC School of the Arts high school student, Hunter Schafer, a transgender woman who is now a star on the HBO critically acclaimed series, “Euphoria.”

The lead plaintiff, Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man who works for UNC Chapel Hill, said in a statement Tuesday that he’s happy about the settlement.

“This is a tremendous victory but not a complete one,” he said.

“While I am glad that Governor (Roy) Cooper agreed to the settlement, it remains devastating to know that local protections for LGBTQ people are still banned under state law while so many of our community continue to face violence, harassment and discrimination simply because of who we are. The fight for full justice will continue.”

Long in the works

The consent decree has been in the works for a while, but attorneys for Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Leader Tim Moore have argued against the proposed agreement, saying it raises troubling questions.

Gene Schaerr, an attorney representing state legislative leaders, said at a May 17 hearing in federal court in Winston-Salem that state legislative leaders worry about a federal court having jurisdiction over state actions.

At that same hearing, Schroeder ordered an updated consent decree that might satisfy legislative leaders. Berger and Moore remain opposed to the consent decree, according to court documents.

But Schroeder wrote in a memorandum and opinion that he believes the decree is a fair resolution to litigation that has been pending for the past three years.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of NC Values Coalition, bashed the agreement in a statement on Tuesday.

“Governor Cooper’s fake settlement is actually like the fox watching the hen house,” she said. “He and Attorney General (Josh) Stein have never stood in defense of our bathroom privacy and protections and now they are forcing women and girls to lose their right to privacy and safety in public facilities they control.”

Republican legislative leaders had argued that House Bill 2 was necessary to promote public safety of women and girls and to protect their privacy.

They argued that allowing transgender people to use restrooms aligned with their gender identity could make it possible for a man, dressed as a woman, to sneak into a women’s bathroom and sexually or physically assault a woman.

But there’s no evidence of a connection between assaults on women in restrooms and laws allowing transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identities.

Fitzgerald said she thanks God that public schools are not under Cooper’s control.

“Women and children have an equal right to safely access public restrooms, showers and changing facilities without risking their safety or seeing men’s genitals on full display,” she said in her statement.

In a previous hearing, Schroeder noted that House Bill 2 had no enforcement mechanism and that transgender people had been using whatever restroom they wanted for years before House Bill 2.

Irena Como, acting legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said that while the consent decree provides some clarity and relief for transgender people, there is work that remains to be done.

“The shameful stain of House Bill 2 and the pain and harm it caused to so many people will always be part of North Carolina’s history,” she said. “LGBTQ North Carolinians still lack comprehensive, statewide nondiscrimination protections while on the job, patronizing a business open to the public, or simply going about their daily lives.”

Forsyth judge must decide whether to overturn Winston-Salem man's murder convictions based on allegations of poor legal representation

After a two-day hearing that ended Tuesday, the question now before a Forsyth County judge is whether a Winston-Salem man’s attorneys did such a poor job of representing him that it forced the man to plead guilty to two murders because he falsely believed he would get a shorter sentence.

Franklin Bowden Jr., 30, is in prison serving a minimum of 36 years and 10 months to a maximum of 47 years and four months after he being convicted of shooting two people to death in 2004 when he was 15 — Gerado Santiago-Arias and Michael Monte Jordan.

Santiago-Aries was shot five times and was found in woods in Happy Hill Gardens in March 2004. Two weeks later, Jordan was shot in the neck on East 10th Street.

Bowden apologized to both families during his sentencing hearing in 2006.

Don D. Carter, his current attorney, has filed an amended motion for appropriate relief alleging that Bowden’s trial attorneys, Jerry Jordan and Lisa Costner, failed to thoroughly investigate Bowden’s case to mount a possible self-defense claim and met with him only a few hours over a two-year period. Carter also alleges that Jordan was verbally abusive to Bowden.

Both lawyers have denied the allegations that they provided what is legally known as ineffective assistance of counsel. Jordan, however, testified in a previous hearing on the motion that he should have spent more time with Bowden and that he cussed at Bowden.

Carter and Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Friel made oral arguments in front of Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court on Tuesday morning.

Hall said it will likely take him about two weeks before he issues a written ruling.

Carter argued that Jordan and Costner failed to do the basics in defending Bowden. For example, he said they didn’t bother to obtain his school records, which would have shown that Bowden had a severely low GPA of 0.67, he said. Bowden also couldn’t read or write.

Carter also argued that Bowden’s attorneys filed a notice of alibi in a case that cried out for a self-defense claim.

When Carter called Costner to testify Monday, she said she could hardly recall any details about the case but remembered receiving information about a possible alibi from a phone message. She said she wouldn’t have pursued a self-defense claim unless it came from her client.

Carter said that shouldn’t have mattered because all the witness statements that prosecutors had turned over to the defense provided enough evidence to pursue self-defense. None of the information that prosecutors turned over mentioned any possibility of an alibi defense, he said.

But beyond that, Carter said Tuesday, Bowden had told Hall on Monday when he was called to testify that he had always pushed for a trial. Why, Carter asked, did Bowden all of a sudden change his mind and agree to a plea deal? Carter added that Bowden didn’t suddenly agree to just any plea deal; he agreed to the same plea deal he had rejected months earlier.

“What changed?” Carter asked.

He said Bowden was clear Monday about what changed — a promise from his attorneys that he would get 13 years to 16 years if he pleaded guilty to the two counts of second-degree murder and other related charges. At the time, Bowden was facing two counts of first-degree murder and could have received two life sentences if convicted at trial.

Carter had alleged in his motion that Jordan and Costner had spent a combined total of about two hours visiting Bowden at the Forsyth County jail, but Friel, the assistant district attorney, said his numbers indicated a combined total of 6½ hours. Carter said if the 6½ figure is accurate, that means the two attorneys spent the majority of that time trying to convince Bowden to take a plea instead of preparing for a trial.

Friel, however, pointed out the plea transcript. Bowden told a judge under oath that he was not being coerced into taking a plea and that he was satisfied with his legal counsel. And it’s likely that a self-defense claim would have failed at trial, he argued.

The plea arrangement is set out in the transcript, which says that sentencing would be up to the judge, Friel said.

To believe that Costner and Jordan intentionally misrepresented the terms of a plea arrangement to Bowden would mean that the two attorneys not only provided ineffective assistance of counsel but also engaged in unethical misconduct that could result in discipline from the N.C. State Bar, Friel argued.

Bowden, Friel said, had the chance to tell the truth about whether he did commit the murders in self-defense but instead invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

“What they’re asking you for is extraordinary relief,” Friel said. “They’re asking you to set aside two murder convictions that have been settled for about 15 years now.”