Groups want Newby to recuse himself from redistricting case

November 21, 2012

Democrats, the state NAACP and other nonprofits suing over the legislature’s redistricting plans want state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby to recuse himself from participating in the case.

The groups filed a motion Wednesday saying that individuals and political groups with a direct stake in the outcome of the redistricting case spent nearly $2 million to support Newby’s re-election, and those contributions “had a significant and disproportionate influence in Justice Newby’s victory.”

The redistricting plans affect new legislative and 2011 congressional district lines that were drawn to limit black voters’ influence.

In their new court filing Wednesday, the NAACP and the other groups link a chain of political contributions from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee to the N.C. Judicial Coalition, which spent $1.9 million airing television ads supporting Newby.

Newby, the incumbent, beat challenger Sam J. Ervin IV 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. Judicial races are nonpartisan, but Newby is a registered Republican and appeared at a Republican rally with Pat McCrory and other Republican candidates while campaigning.

The courts “can’t have the appearance of being sold to the highest bidder,” said the Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president. Newby should recuse himself “to protect the integrity of the court,” Barber said.

The Supreme Court heard arguments months ago on the Democrats’ request to see email and other correspondence from the lawyers counseling the legislature on creating the districts. The Democrats and advocacy groups claimed that since the private lawyers were paid with state money, their records on certain redistricting topics should be public record, just as state employees’ would be. A three-judge panel agreed, but Republican leaders appealed the decision.

Newby could not be reached Wednesday.

The redistricting consultant for the Republican State Leadership Committee was the “chief architect” of the redistricting maps, and received help from the redistricting counsel for the RNC, according to the motion.

Art Pope, a wealthy Raleigh businessman and former legislator, worked with Republican lawyer Thomas Farr as counsel to the legislature’s redistricting committee chairmen, the motion says.

The Pope Foundation funds the Civitas Institute, which spent on radio and newspaper ads related to the Newby election, according to the motion. Pope is also on the Americans for Prosperity board, which spent at least $225,000 on mail about Newby. Pope’s company contributed at least $150,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Dallas Woodhouse, Americans for Prosperity state director, said the motion would set a “horrific standard” by having judges recuse themselves over money they did not ask for and had no role in spending.

Independent groups could manipulate the system and spend to support judges that they want to drop out of certain cases, he said.

“If the standard is that judges should recuse themselves based on independent expenditures that they had nothing to do with, I promise you, they will come to regret that standard,” Woodhouse said.

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina noted that other Supreme Court justices had recused themselves from participating in redistricting matters.

Newby is an honorable man, Hall said, but the decision by outside groups to pay to help him win leaves the perception that they are trying to influence the court.

Bonner: 919-829-829-4821

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