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'Crude' insult mars Confederate statue court appeal, attorneys in Winston-Salem claim

Asking a state appeals court to toss a challenge to the removal of the Confederate statue from downtown Winston-Salem, attorneys for the three defendants — Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and the owner of the Winston Courthouse apartments — are citing what they call “crude, insulting and highly inappropriate” language in an email sent by an attorney for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The group is trying to have a Confederate statue put back on the corner of the former courthouse square after the city removed the statue March 12, citing public safety concerns arising from protests at the monument.

During negotiations over the appeals process, a court exhibit shows, United Daughters of the Confederacy attorney James A. Davis told attorney Jodi Hildebran in an email that she was “full of it,” then told Hildebran that “Basically, you can go rotate on it.”

Hildebran attached a copy of the email to the motion she authored asking the Appeals Court to dismiss the UDC appeal. Hildebran represents Winston Courthouse LLC, the owner of the former courthouse. Her motion was submitted on behalf of the apartments’ owner, the city of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

In a footnote to the affidavit she filed with her motion to dismiss, Hildebran called attention to “rotate on it” comment:

“I believe this comment was intended to be highly offensive, and I considered it to be,” Hildebran wrote.

In its appeal, the UDC is arguing that Superior Court Judge Eric Morgan erred on May 8 when he dismissed a lawsuit the group had filed to stop the removal of the state and force its return.

Morgan said that the organization lacked the legal right to contest the statue’s removal because it claimed no ownership of the monument.

The statue’s removal came after months of protests by supporters and opponents of the statue that had stood on the corner of Liberty and Fourth streets since 1905.

Opponents charged the statue was a reminder of the campaign for white supremacy that deprived black people of the vote during the era in which the statue was erected. Backers of the statue called it a monument to dead soldiers that should remain as their memorial.

Hildebran, the Winston Courthouse attorney who filed a motion Oct. 31 to dismiss the latest United Daughters of the Confederacy claim, maintains that the group’s attorneys committed various procedural errors when they filed the appeal and never responded when the mistakes were pointed out, despite efforts by the defense attorneys to provide documents they said were missing and otherwise make corrections to the court record.

Hildebran said in her motion that the procedural violations by the UDC attorneys “are numerous and egregious” and that efforts by the defense attorney to help attorneys fix the mistakes “were met with disdain and belligerence.”

In her motion to dismiss the UDC appeal, Hildebran says that the violations of appeals procedure by the UDC are so substantial that they warrant court-imposed sanctions as well as dismissal of the appeal.

The email Hildebran found insulting, according to a court exhibit made by Hildebran, was sent by Davis on Oct. 19 and addressed to Hildebran, with copies to attorneys including Angela Carmon (attorney for the city), Gordon Watkins (attorney for the county) and others involved in the case.

In the email, the UDC attorney says that Hildebran can’t speak for the other attorneys because she is not the attorney of record for the city nor the county.

“Simply you are full of it,” Davis writes. “I will address the record on Monday. Thank you for your cooperation. You should find a basis for your ill conceived position. Basically, you can go rotate on it.”

Davis did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on the email.

The back-and-forth emails between Davis and the defendant attorneys was over what is called the record on appeal, a collection of documents the UDC was required to file with the N.C. Court of Appeals, and which included documents from the superior court proceedings last spring.

The UDC attorneys provided the defense attorneys with their first record on appeal on Aug. 23, but the defense said they found all kinds of problems with the record and responded jointly with a list of objections on Sept. 23.

Hildebran said she waited the required 10 days for a response from the UDC and never got one. Then, Davis wrote her an email on Oct. 8 in which he challenged Hildebran’s ability to respond for the other attorneys. Davis sent a second record on appeal to all the attorneys on Oct. 14, but they wouldn’t sign it, saying the deadline had passed.

Days later, in response to an email from Hildebran about the passed deadline, Davis sent Hildebran the email with the “full of it” and “rotate on it” remarks.

Carmon, speaking for the city, and Watkins, for the county, have filed affidavits in support of the motion to dismiss the UDC appeal.

In those affidavits, the attorneys disagree with Davis’ argument that Hildebran was speaking only for one of the three defendants.

Watkins also says in his affidavit that Davis was wrong in saying that he had dealt with all of the defense objections to the record in his second filing.

The city has kept the statue in storage until the legal challenges are settled. City officials plan to move the statue to Salem Cemetery, where 36 Confederate soldiers were buried.

'I shot about 17 of my own people.' Former gang leader shares his story of street violence to warn others away from crime

In order to listen to “Vegas Don” speak about life on the streets, the cocaine he’s sold and the 17 people he says he’s shot, you first have to empty your pockets and subject yourself to the metal detectors wielded by sheriff’s deputies guarding the entrance to Union Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.

Vegas Don’s real name is Otis Lyons and in the 1980s he ran a notorious street gang in Durham before being sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1987 after being convicted of shooting at someone. His conviction was overturned five years later. Lyons prefers to be known as Vegas Don.

On Thursday morning, Lyons spoke to about 30 area high school students gathered at the church on North Trade Street in an effort to deter them from a life of crime and drug use — a life he used to live.

Lyons’ presentation started with him rapping, he came out to a modified version of the Rick Ross gangsta rap song “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast),” swapping its lyrics about infamous drug dealers with famed civil rights leaders.

“I think I’m Malcom X, Martin Luther,” Lyons rapped. “Saving peeps, hallelujah. Real G’s don’t murder who they love.”

Appearing as part of the 16th annual Corner 2 Corner Drug Dealers and Street Life Conference, Lyons regaled the teens with tales of his life as the “OG,” or leader of North Durham Vice.

“I shot about 17 of my own people,” he said, while a slideshow of faces, people from his gang who died, played behind him. An audience member asked him if he had murdered any of those people.

“A sane person would never tell you that,” Lyons said.

Lyons sold cocaine, or “caine” as he called it, and made a lot of money doing so. He flashed pictures of himself holding stacks of bills and guns.

He recalled the time, before he went to prison, when he was almost killed. He said he was at a woman’s house one night, “high on caine,” when seven men with guns called for him to come out of the house.

Holding a sawed-off shotgun, Lyons said he had seen “Scarface” enough times and was so high, he wasn’t scared. “I was ready to die,” he said.

He didn’t die, but he was shot in the head, he said. He attributes his luck to God, saying it must have been his plan for him to live.

After prison, Lyons continued to sell cocaine and run the gang. He said his life didn’t actually turn around until he saw God one night after partying.

“I came home to the club and I went to lay down,” he said. “A force made me sit up in bed and replay that night (he was shot in the head). I started seeing the world for what it really was.”

So he decided to change — literally he calls his business venture Campaign 4 Change — and he works to deter kids from the life he lived, and the life he saw others live.

“I was in that situation because of the things I did,” Lyons said.

He said that people can only blame their circumstances so much, and that to be successful in life they must find it in themselves to do better. Lyons said he hopes he can show at-risk kids that they have value, even if they don’t always listen to him.

“It upsets me more than anything,” Lyons said about young people who have heard him speak and still end up killed or in prison. “I put my heart, blood, sweat and tears into this.”

Jaheim Davis, a 17-year-old sophomore at Carver High School, said Lyons’ presentation was impactful.

“Taught me to stay in school, keep my head held high,” Davis said.

He said he sees gang activity among his peers but focuses on pursuing a college football career at Winston-Salem State University.

“I see gang-banging every day, but it’s not my cup of tea,” Davis said. “That tea cold, and I like my tea hot.”

At one point in his presentation, Lyons showed graphic pictures of four men who were killed in a drive-by shooting, evoking the strongest reaction of the morning from the students.

Some students had to leave the room, and others shielded their eyes.

The Rev. Sir Walter Mack, the senior pastor at Union Baptist Church, organizes the annual conference, and he told the students in attendance that he hopes they will change their paths.

“We’re here today because you have to live,” an emotional Mack told the students. “You cannot die before it’s your time. It’s not God’s will.”

Mack said that he is upset about the amount of violence he has seen in Winston-Salem recently and that the church needs to do more to heal the city.

“I believe the church’s role is to do everything it can to remedy the violence in the streets,” Mack said.

Photos: Corner to Corner conference

Downtown Winston-Salem has growing pains, say people who live and work in the area

From parking problems to the lack of a downtown grocery store, people highlighted downtown Winston-Salem’s growing pains during a city forum for people who live and work downtown, or simply care about it.

With an open mic and some 50 people in attendance, city leaders heard about the need to care for the homeless, repave bumpy streets when the Business 40 renovation is done, and otherwise improve the quality of services downtown.

The forum was held in a meeting room at Benton Convention Center.

Real estate broker Jack Steelman kicked things off by asking the city to do more to make the 400 and 500 blocks of Trade and Liberty streets feel safer for the customers of business operators who struggle to stay in business in the area.

“The people who lease spaces there can’t stay in business,” Steelman said, noting that too many businesses find their customers reluctant to come down their blocks.

One speaker noted, to nods from many in the audience, that a greater police presence had improved the problem of over-aggressive panhandlers that arose earlier in the year.

A couple speakers appealed for people to care for the homeless and not try to push them away.

Ronnie Croxton, who ministers to the homeless, told the group that while the city does have a lot of homeless people, better efforts at getting the homeless into anger management would help.

“Homeless people are very smart,” he said. “Some are veterans, some are musicians. They have talents. A lot of the homeless people have been abused. We cannot ignore them. We have to love them.”

Lori Sykes, who lives at One Park Vista downtown, said there is a big need for temporary parking spaces so that food delivery people aren’t blocking streets and driveways downtown while they make their deliveries.

Her experience at the forum illustrates how these kinds of events work: City department leaders were posted at tables around the edge of the room, and people were directed where to go to discuss their issues in greater depth after the public comment part of the program was finished.

Sykes talked to people in the city’s transportation department, and came away saying she felt officials were listening.

“It is just a growing pain problem, being downtown,” she said.

Tracy King, who has a business on Burke Street called The Studio that specializes in makeup for those dealing with cancer, said her problem was also one of access, made worse by the traffic that is “zipping up and down Burke Street” too fast.

What the street needs is a place where people who use wheelchairs can get sidewalk access on Burke Street, she said.

Jeff Smith had a more wide-ranging concern: He said the city should commit to repaving Fourth and Fifth streets when the Business 40 renovation is done.

“When you drive Fourth Street, it is kind of like a roller coaster,” Smith said. “It is a bumpy ride.”

Jeff Fansler, the city’s assistant director of transportation, said that repairs to Fourth and Fifth streets post-Business 40 are not yet on the radar but will be.

“We will be checking,” Fansler said.

Susan Doran, who lives in the Holly Avenue neighborhood, said that with the recent addition of West End Station apartments and more to come, it is time for downtown to have a grocery store.

“I feel we have reached a tipping point,” she said.

Stephen Hawryluk, the city’s deputy budget and evaluation director, was introduced as the city official who will be the city’s point person on things downtown.

Hawryluk said that leading up to the forum, some 300 people left responses to the city on its website with comments about downtown concerns.

Parking, panhandling, traffic and road conditions were all common among the responses, he said, noting that the city gets valuable information from the feedback.

“It helps us keep people as informed as we can,” Hawryluk said.

Teachers could get 4.9% raises through an offer by the state GOP leaders

N.C. Republican senators increased Thursday their pay-raise proposal for public school teachers in a bid to put more pressure on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to approve a mini-budget bill.

Cooper has until Monday to decide whether to sign Senate Bill 354, make it his 11th veto of the 2019 session, or let it become law without his signature, which he has done with two bills.

SB354 would raise public school employees’ pay by an average 3.9%, retroactive to July 1. The Senate passed the bill by a 28-20 vote and the House by a 62-46 vote, both Oct. 30 along party lines.

On Thursday, a statement from the office of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, contained a proposal that would up the teacher raise to 4.9% for all teachers, as well as a $1,000 bonus.

The chairs of the Senate Appropriations committee said the proposal was made earlier this week to Democratic Senate leaders Dan Blue and Darren Jackson, both of Wake County. Berger’s office has not responded to a request to disclose the proposal.

The chairs also cited a willingness to discuss the Republicans’ criticized proposal to move the headquarters of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services from Raleigh to Oxford.

Cooper has said the GOP budget does not contain a large enough pay increase for public school teachers — he has proposed an 8.6% raise.

The issue is one of the two primary reasons why Cooper vetoed GOP state budget compromise House Bill 966 on June 28, along with the bill not having Medicaid expansion legislation. The budget stalemate reaches day 133 Friday.

“We gave the Senate Democrats one more chance to show they support teachers,” said Sens. Harry Brown of Onslow County, Kathy Harrington of Gaston County and Brent Jackson of Sampson County, expressing similar comments made when SB250 was ratified Oct. 30.

“Instead, they’re backing Gov. Cooper’s Medicaid ultimatum.

“It’s clear that Democrats are intent on blocking any and all teacher raises so they can turn around and blame Republicans,” the senators said.

Dory MacMillan, press secretary for Cooper, said “the only ultimatum has come from dishonest Republican legislative leaders who insist on a budget veto override, which gives them sweeping corporate tax cuts and $380 million in pork projects instead of adequate teacher pay raises.”

“Republican leaders know full well that the governor has offered time and again to negotiate these educator pay raises separate and apart from Medicaid expansion or any other budget issue.”

Splitting the difference between Republican and Democratic positions on teacher pay “has always been the obvious way to negotiate an end to the months-long budget standoff,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.

“It is easy to see how the parties could engage in give and take on teacher pay and some other budget issues,” Dinan said.

“The key question is whether the governor is willing to engage in such give and take at this point, given the strong stand he has long taken on Medicaid expansion, or alternatively whether one or several Democrats are willing to take such a deal and claim a partial win on teacher pay increases.”

Senate Republicans need to persuade at least one Democratic senator to support a veto override vote at full attendance. The Senate has not conducted an override vote on Cooper’s remaining nine vetoes.

“I suspect legislative leaders are aiming this proposal more at Democratic senators than at Gov. Cooper,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

“Republicans believe that Cooper will accept no deals that do not include his Obamacare version of Medicaid expansion. If that’s true, then the amount of money devoted to higher teacher pay is irrelevant to the governor.

“But a higher teacher pay provision might prove more enticing to Democratic legislators who lack Cooper’s devotion to that single political goal.”

Kokai said the latest adjournment resolution allowing for the Nov. 13 session “gave (GOP legislative leaders) some wiggle room to tackle legislation other than redistricting.”

A sweetener was added to SB250 before it was ratified: a 4.4% pay supplement increase. The catch: The supplement hike only goes into effect if Senate Republicans gain the necessary Democratic vote to override Cooper’s budget veto.

The N.C. Association of Educators responded to the pay supplemental offer Oct. 30 by calling it “wildly insulting to educators of every level.”

Mark Jewell, the association’s president, said that “even with these proposed increases, education support professionals would still be getting less than other state employees have already received, and our retirees are ignored entirely.”

House Republican leaders waited 76 days to conduct their veto override vote of the state budget compromise in controversial manner Sept. 11. Most Democratic members were not on the floor because they said they had been told by Republican House leadership that no votes would be taken during the first session that day.

The Senate did not take a veto override vote on the budget even though it was on the floor agenda for four days before the session was temporary adjourned Oct. 31.

According to the temporary adjournment legislation, veto override votes currently can’t occur until Jan. 14 at the earliest.

Cooper has signed all but one of the mini-budget bills, the lone veto being for House Bill 555, which contained $218 million in start-up funding from the proposed state budget for the Medicaid managed-care transformation initiative now set for a Feb. 1 statewide start.

Berger released a statement Oct. 31 saying that through the mini-budget process, the legislature “passed funding that totals 98.5% of the original $24 billion (budget) it passed in June.”