Prosecution of Perdue supporters exceeded the offense

April 25, 2013 

In the end, it didn’t seem like something that warranted all the time and expense of prosecution. Three political supporters of former Gov. Beverly Perdue pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges in Wake County Superior Court, getting unsupervised probation and fines.

Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs Jr. of New Bern had provided flights for the campaign on his private plane; Charles Michael Fulenwider of Morganton had given money that wound up paying a campaign worker, Juleigh Sutton, through a company run by Perdue finance chief Peter Reichard of Greensboro, though the money was off the books, as Sutton was also being paid by the campaign. Robert Lee Caldwell of Morganton was a minor player in the campaign.

Judge Donald Stephens, presiding, repeatedly characterized Reichard, who earlier pleaded to obstruction of justice and received a suspended sentence and a $25,000 fine, as the person who initiated the schemes. Stephens said people who work in political campaigns seem to “take leave of their senses for a brief period of time and then have to be embarrassed about it.” But he acknowledged that the three people involved here had no criminal records and had achieved good things in their lives.

And that leads to a valid point. Was this prosecution worth all the time and trouble? Respected Raleigh attorney Wade Smith, representing Stubbs, noted that the complexity and confusion of campaign laws (he rightly called them “arcane”) could lead to political prosecutions in the future. Indeed, the prosecution of Reichard was appropriate, and it may have, one hopes, raised awareness of campaign laws among political operatives in the future.

But this move against three people who clearly lacked guidance about the rules from the Perdue campaign, which the campaign was obligated to provide, seems a bit over the top. Doubtless Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby wanted to put a period on the end of this sentence, so to speak. But it would have been no threat to the republic if the matter had simply been allowed to fade away.

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