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Legal Ethics

Banned from bench over refusal to give up board seat, ex-judge is now accused of lying during probe

Posted May 14, 2013 12:52 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A former North Carolina judge who gave up his seat on the bench in 2009 in the midst of an investigation over his continued membership on a corporate board and other issues is now facing a legal ethics case over accusations that he lied during the probe.

Bill Belk, who was subsequently banned from the state court bench after resigning from Mecklenburg County District Court seat, is now accused of misrepresenting to an investigator in the judicial ethics case why he had not given up his seat on the board of directors of Sonic Automotive, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Belk, who had sat on the automotive retailer's board for a decade, was required to give up his seat—for which he was paid $145,000 per year in stock and fees—after he became a judge to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the newspaper explains. His job as a judge paid him about $106,000 annually.

Now, in an attorney legal ethics case, the North Carolina State Bar contends that Belk previously told the executive director of the Judicial Standards Commission and an investigator that he had kept the Sonic seat in order to maintain the health insurance that board members received. In fact, Sonic didn't provide insurance to directors, the bar contends in a complaint against Belk. The ethics case is expected to go to trial in August.

The newspaper couldn't reach Belk for comment on Monday. However, he says in a written response to the bar filing that his comments during the judicial conduct probe were misconstrued.

Calling Sonic his "source" of health insurance and retirement, as an alleged statement from the commission investigator says he did, wasn't saying that the company currently provided these benefits, Belk wrote, but merely referring to the “safety net” that Sonic provided for him in the future. Belk points out that when he was a judge, he was covered by state health insurance, which he no longer has.

Prior coverage:

Associated Press: "NC Supreme Court may ban Belk from the bench"

Associated Press: "Former judge Belk challenges removal from bench "

Charlotte Observer: "N.C. Court of Appeals rules against former Mecklenburg District Judge Bill Belk

North Carolina Law and Policy: " 'Blowing Off Steam' OK With North Carolina Supreme Court"

Wall Street Journal Law Blog: "Board Games: Refusal to Leave Corporate World Costs Judge His Job"

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