District attorney is removed from office under rarely used state law

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A North Carolina district attorney was removed from office Tuesday in a process that began with an affidavit filed by a grassroots group of victims’ families.

Using a little-known state law, the families claimed that district attorney Gregory Newman should be removed for mishandling cases and failing to prosecute felonies, the Asheville Citizen Times reports.

The process culminated in a removal order by Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin, who appointed independent counsels, had a hearing and found that Newman had engaged in willful misconduct in office. His findings were based on two disciplinary cases involving dropped charges and a failure to notify a victim of a plea deal. In both cases, Newman made false statements to the state bar, Ervin said.

Newman was the top prosecutor for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties. Only two other district attorneys in the state have been removed under the same process, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

One victim who supported the removal petition was a 22-year-old woman who said she was raped repeatedly by a neighbor when she was between ages 5 and 12. Newman allowed a misdemeanor plea in the case without notifying the victim or her parents.

“I’m overwhelmed by how happy I am right now,” the victim told the Asheville Citizen Times after Ervin ordered Newman’s ouster.

The woman had filed an ethics complaint against Newman with the North Carolina State Bar, which issued a three-year stayed suspension. The discipline order said Newman told a judge that the victim had been informed of the plea and did not want to be heard, knowing that his statement was false. The order also said Newman falsely told the state bar that he explained the situation to the victim’s father, but there was no notice to the victim’s mother because she didn’t return a phone call.

Ervin cited the stayed suspension, as well as another disciplinary case in which Newman received a reprimand after dismissing drug charges against a former client. The man had pleaded guilty to the charges in 2007 while Newman was still in private practice. After Newman became a district attorney, another lawyer sought to rescind the guilty plea.

Newman initially told the state bar that he would have had someone else address the lawyer’s motion if he had known that the defendant was a prior client. The assertion was a material misrepresentation of fact, according to the reprimand order.

Newman presented character witnesses in his defense, including Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin, who said law enforcement generally had trust and confidence in Newman.

But Ervin cited other testimony by Griffin in his order.

“Newman, as district attorney, has on four separate occasions made false representations to the trial court or the state bar,” Ervin wrote. “Sheriff Griffin admitted that if a law enforcement officer lied to the Court, his career would be over. It is difficult to see why Newman … should be held to a lower standard.”

Newman’s removal does not prevent him from running for other elective office or from practicing law. He has been the district attorney since 2013.

A lawyer for Ervin, David Freedman, told the Asheville Citizen Times that Newman “is proud of the fact he has been able to serve the people of Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties since 2013. His office has done great things while he has served as the elected DA.”

The Associated Press, WLOS, the Transylvania Times and the Hendersonville Lightning also had coverage of the case.

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