Rapper Yo Gotti sat in a Winston-Salem courtroom and heard news he didn’t want to hear — that $6.6 million judgment he wanted vacated isn’t going anywhere.
Last month, Judge Todd Burke of Forsyth Superior Court awarded that amount to Michael Terry, manager of Winston-Salem singer Young Fletcher, whose legal name is Lamont Fletcher.
Yo Gotti, whose legal name is Mario Mims, was accused of wiggling out of a deal in which he was paid $20,000 to rap a verse over Young Fletcher’s song, an effort to boost the singer’s sales and airplay. Terry accused Yo Gotti of not signing paperwork allowing for that song’s release on streaming services such as Spotify and on sites such as YouTube. He also accused the rapper of trying to pay $150,000 to lure Young Fletcher to the rapper’s label.
Yo Gotti never filed a written answer to the lawsuit and, after a nonjury trial last month that Yo Gotti did not attend, the judge awarded $2.2 million in actual damages to Terry — then tripled that amount to $6.6 million after making a legal determination that Yo Gotti engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Yo Gotti appeared Monday in Courtroom 6A in Forsyth Superior Court, seeking to vacate the $6.6 million judgment. His primary argument for doing so was simple. He argued he was never personally served with the lawsuit and that, if he was never served the lawsuit, he had no way of defending himself against the allegations contained within the suit or to even know about any hearings in the case.
Burke didn’t buy that argument and upheld his original judgment in the case.
Terry’s attorneys said they tried to serve the lawsuit against Yo Gotti previously — and without success — through the rapper’s agents and lawyers in New York.
Yo Gotti isn’t likely to pay up anytime soon. His attorneys told Burke that they plan to file an appeal with the N.C. Court of Appeals. It will likely take months before the appellate court issues a decision.
“Yo Gotti learned today that my lawyers don’t play, but we should’ve sat down and got this resolved as businessmen,” Terry said through his attorneys, Clarke Dummit, Brett Moore and Abigail Seymour. “I got great artists, and we could put something together where we all win. The opportunity still stands.”
Yo Gotti declined comment as he walked out of the courtroom.
Yo Gotti, 38, took the stand Monday morning and insisted that he was never personally served with the lawsuit. He said he didn’t recognize Sgt. J.E. Gilbertson of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, who testified that he personally served the lawsuit to Yo Gotti after the rapper performed a show on May 6, 2018 at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.
While Yo Gotti was on the stand, Dummit waved an affidavit that the rapper signed. He pointed to one part of the affidavit in which Yo Gotti denied that any deputy served him with legal documents while he was at the concert. In the affidavit, Yo Gotti mentions a period of time when he walked from the stage to his car. Dummit asked Yo Gotti why he specifically mentioned that period of time when he was at the Fairgrounds for about an hour and a half that day.
“You focused on two minutes,” Dummit said.
Yo Gotti said he didn’t understand what Dummit was getting at.
“You knew exactly when the deputy approached,” Dummit responded.
“I didn’t focus on it,” Yo Gotti said.
Yo Gotti’s attorneys, Brent Powell and James Cooney III of Womble Bond Dickinson law firm, played a video showing Yo Gotti coming off the stage, signing autographs and greeting fans. Cooney argued that nothing prevented Gilbertson from handing the complaint directly to Yo Gotti.
Gilbertson testified that as he handed the legal documents to the rapper, a member of the rapper’s security team took the papers. He said he told the rapper that he was handing him civil papers and that the rapper looked at him as he was attempting to hand the papers to Yo Gotti.
Under the policies of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Gilbertson said he believed he had properly served the rapper with the legal documents. Cooney argued that, under the law, that is not considered proper service.
Lamont Wynne, a member of Yo Gotti’s security team who took the complaint, said he was not authorized to accept legal documents on the rapper’s behalf. Wynne said he did not know what kind of papers Gilbertson was handing over. If he had known that this was a lawsuit, the proper protocol would have been for him to give the documents to the rapper’s manager.
Cooney and Powell also argued that the judgment should be thrown out because the court lacks jurisdiction over Yo Gotti, who lives in Tennessee and tours around the country. They also argued that the factual findings Burke made in his ruling aren’t supported by sufficient evidence.
Dummit said Yo Gotti has performed in North Carolina more than 20 times and that he did business with a Winston-Salem man.
Burke said Yo Gotti waived any challenge to the allegations by not responding the lawsuit or appearing in court for hearings.
Cooney mentioned in court that the song for which Yo Gotti recorded a verse is playing on YouTube and has had about 29,000 views. That song does not appear to be playing on Apple Music or Spotify.
Dummit said Terry cannot make any royalties with Apple Music or any other pay channels without the signed agreement from Yo Gotti.
Flags are lowered to half-staff — half-mast if you’re at sea — all the time.
U.S. law codifies certain aspects to the honor.
“By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory,” reads the pertinent section of the Flag Code.
But seriously, outside the death of a former president — the flag flies at half-staff for 30 days — or a beloved hero with the stature of Sen. John McCain — who really notices or even knows who the lowerings honor?
So far this year, Gov. Roy Cooper has ordered flags at state facilities lowered 11 times for 27 days, including four to honor the passing of former U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr., four to remember a slain Mooresville police officer, eight in May after a mass shooting at UNC Charlotte left two dead and two in February to mark the death of a Meherrin Indian chief, to name a few.
On Friday, flags were lowered again, this time in honor of a soldier who finally returned home, nearly 70 years after his death.
There are few things in life less exciting than receiving email from the N.C. Department of Administration. Corn growing, folding sheets and pumping gas, to name a few.
Most get deleted immediately; it’s reflex. But the subject line from one last week leaped out.
FLAG ALERT: Lowering of US and NC Flags to Half-Staff From Sunrise to Sunset on Friday, June 21 in Honor of US Army Private First Class William “Hoover” Jones
Wait one ... Who? And perhaps more importantly … Why?
Jones was but 19 years old when he went missing in action in Korea in November 1950. He was a farm kid, an African American from Red Oak. Rocky Mount in Nash County is the nearest place you might know.
Jones enlisted, an older sister told Time magazine earlier this year, for a “chance at a better life” — a familiar story for a lot of poor kids.
But what he found instead was a place in the infantry in one of the military’s last segregated units, the 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, 8th Army. It was badly trained and poorly equipped. Private Jones was reported missing after a fierce, bitter cold battle in western North Korea.
More than 33,000 American soldiers were killed between 1950 and 1953 during the Korean War. Some 8,100 were listed as missing — 5,300 of those still unaccounted for.
(By comparison, close to 2 million North Koreans — one fifth of its entire population — were killed or wounded. South Korea suffered 1 million casualties.)
Jones’ family, like thousands of others, was left in an agonizing purgatory of not knowing. A sister for years held out hope he might still be alive.
Still, in need of some closure, his siblings erected a tombstone in a cemetery behind a local Baptist church.
The final chapter in Jones’ life story started being written last June in Singapore during the first summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un when the North Koreans handed over 55 boxes of remains.
Time reported that the 55 boxes contained 710 bones and fragments which likely represented more than 100 missing U.S. service members.
Advances in technology, including a database of the missing which contains DNA markers for 92 percent of the 8,100 soldiers with that designation, account for the identifications.
One of those was William “Hoover” Jones; military scientists matched his remains with DNA from his family. Army officers from Fort Bragg came in person to tell his surviving sisters the news.
The story of William “Hoover” Jones homecoming is a familiar one.
About this same time three years ago, the family of George LeTell Rights, a Winston-Salem man, received the same news from the Army. Rights’ remains were identified through the same DNA database as Jones, and he was returned home to be interred in God’s Acre.
“I had about given up hope of it ever happening,” said the Rev. Graham Rights, George’s brother, in July 2015.
George Rights, his family learned years later, had been taken prisoner in February 1951 and likely died in a prison camp a month or two later. Finally knowing and being able to give him a proper Moravian burial.
“It means a great deal to our whole family. … I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime,” the Rev. Rights said.
It means a great deal, too, when a governor orders flags to be flown at half-staff.
“After nearly 70 years, (Jones’) remains will be returned home to family and friends, providing closure after years of uncertainty,” the email from the Department of Administration reads. “In honor of his life and service, PFC Jones will lie in state at the NC State Capitol rotunda in Raleigh on Friday, June 21.”
The occasions and days might all run together, but often as not, noticing that flags have been lowered — and learning the reason why — is worth the effort.
A controversial bill would require Surry County school board members to run as Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated or members of some other party. And the measure is headed to the state House floor despite increasingly vocal opposition.
Currently, school boards in Surry County are nonpartisan.
The House Rules and Operations committee voted 10-10 on Senate Bill 674 on Monday, meaning the bill wouldn’t move forward. However, it gained recommendation after committee chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, broke the tie.
Surry has three school systems — Elkin City, Mount Airy City and Surry County. The bill is opposed by all three boards.
The bill would go into effect with the 2020 election. It was filed as a local bill, meaning it cannot be vetoed by the governor.
Under the bill, board members would serve four-year terms and be required to state a party when filing. Party affiliations would appear on the ballot. Vacancies would be filled from nominees made by the departing member’s party.
SB674 was introduced as a local bill May 21 by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Wilkes, who represents Surry and four other Northwest North Carolina counties. The two House members that represent Surry — Reps. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, and Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, also support the bill.
“This bill will increase voter participation in school board elections, and I believe that party affiliation gives voters a sense of a candidate’s philosophy,” Berger said in a statement. The Surry commissioners expressed similar sentiment before their 3-1 vote on April 1.
“That’s especially true of an issue like education, where there’s a fairly stark divide between Republicans and Democrats,” said Berger, whose district includes part of Surry County.
When questioned by committee members about the school boards’ opposition to SB674, Stevens acknowledged a major impetus for the bill is that Berger favors all school boards in the counties he represents have partisan elections.
Mamie Sutphin, a Surry County Schools board member, told the committee Monday that a more transparent way of determining whether county residents want partisan elections is to hold a referendum.
Sutphin said the decision about partisanship should not be made “by those who don’t have children in the system and don’t have involvement in the community.”
Ben Cooke, vice chairman of Mount Airy City school board, said determining whether to make the three boards partisan “should not be decided by a few citizens.”
The legislation is opposed by Elkin Mayor Sam Bishop, who said he told Surry commission chairman Van Tucker “that four elected governing bodies, three school boards and the town of Elkin Board of Commissioners were unanimously opposed to partisan elections.”
The N.C. Senate voted 25-18 Monday night to approve a bill that would force the state’s 100 sheriffs to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on detainers to hold jail inmates who may be in the country illegally.
The vote followed a 70-minute debate in which 11 senators spoke about their support or opposition to the bill. Seven senators, including state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, were absent and didn’t cast a vote. The vote mostly followed partisan lines with Republicans supporting it and Democrats voting against it.
State. Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, voted against the legislation, saying that it targets sheriffs who have decided not to cooperate with ICE.
“This bill is an attack on certain sheriffs,” Lowe said. “I don’t think it’s ready for prime time.”
State Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe, said that the bill is the right approach because it protects law-abiding residents from repeat offenders who are undocumented immigrants.
“These are people in the country illegally who want to hurt us,” Edwards said.
After the vote, Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger said that Senate will return the bill to the N.C. House and ask those legislators to vote on the changes that the Senate approved.
Earlier Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he opposed the bill, hours after activists who also oppose the bill called on him to do just that.
Cooper called the proposed law unconstitutional, and while he did not promise to veto the bill, opponents were saying on Twitter that they were heartened by the governor’s stand.
State Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Forsyth, hosted a Monday morning news conference at which groups opposing the legislation spoke out against the measure.
The bill was passed by the N.C. House on April 3 by a 64-50 vote, mostly along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Montgomery, who represents the 72nd District, voted against HB370.
“It has always been my position on any policy that we need to let local communities decide what is in the best interest for them, especially for local law enforcement,” Montgomery said at the start of the news conference Monday morning.
Speakers included representatives of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, along with religious leaders, members of the Hispanic community and other activists opposed to the legislation.
Many of the speakers called attention to the decisions by newly elected black sheriffs in some major urban counties not to uphold what are called detainers — written requests by immigration officials to extend time in custody for people who are charged with a crime. Detainers give ICE — Immigration Customs and Enforcement — 48 hours to decide whether to pick up suspects on the belief that they are in the country illegally.
HB370 has a provision for the removal from office of sheriffs who do not cooperate with the ICE on the detainers.
Cooper, in a statement released from his office mid-afternoon, said dangerous criminals can already be locked up and prosecuted, but that the bill was “about scoring political points and using fear to divide us.”
The Rev. Anthony Spearman, the president of the state NAACP, said during the morning press conference that the legislation was meant to target the black sheriffs.
He called it “a tactic straight off the pages of the white supremacist playbook.” He said voters in the counties that elected the sheriffs “have all said that we want sheriffs who will not be slaves to the immigration and enforcement authorities that tear this nation apart.”
“We have come to stand in solidarity with those sheriffs and the immigrants, especially the children ... the most vulnerable among us,” Spearman said.
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough was among the newly elected black sheriffs who ended cooperation with the detainers following his election. Kimbrough has said that while he opposes HB370, he will follow the law if it is passed.