Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the trial of a Wayne County judge accused of trying to bribe an FBI agent with two cases of Bud Light to get text messages from his wife’s phone.
The trial of Arnold Ogden Jones II, the senior resident Superior Court judge in a judicial district that includes Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties, is set for opening statements on Oct. 17 on accusations that Jones texted a Wayne County deputy who also is a member of an FBI gang task force in an effort to get copies of text messages exchanged between two numbers. The FBI can only obtain those records with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge on suspicion of criminal activity.
According to a federal indictment issued Nov. 3, the judge told the agent the messages were “just for (him)” and “involve(d) family members.”
Court documents filed in the case since then offer a fuller account of the investigation and planned defense.
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Attorneys for Jones outlined in documents filed this summer why the judge wanted the texts.
“Arnold Jones, II was a worried man,” stated the document submitted by Raleigh lawyers Joseph B. Cheshire V, Elliot S. Abrams, and Goldsboro lawyers Glenn A. Barfield and Brian Geoffrey Hulse.
“Shortly after marrying his wife, he began having concerns about her fidelity,” the lawyers stated. “Jones asked a sheriff’s deputy who he wrongly believed to be a friend whether the deputy could access his wife’s text messages. The deputy said yes when he should have just said no.”
The defense strategy outlined in court documents has been the subject of several recent filings in the case. Prosecutors allege that the defense plans to argue entrapment even though such an argument had been precluded by earlier filings.
The defense has disagreed with that assessment, saying the plans are to argue that Jones was never told by Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Miller, a gang officer on a FBI task force, that what the judge had asked for would require a search warrant. Instead, the defense has said, the deputy proceeded with an operation that led to a “SWAT-team-like raid” at the judge’s Wayne County home this past November and resulted in Jones being arrested at gunpoint, driven to Raleigh and led into a federal courtroom in shackles for his first hearing in the criminal case.
The defense raises questions not only about Miller’s actions related to the Jones case, but also in previous incidents that have led to what they describe as “a long internal rap sheet” of misconduct allegations while on the beat.
Miller was one of two officers mentioned in a 2011 complaint from a Goldsboro man who said the deputy and another officer strip-searched him after a traffic stop on U.S. 70 for speeding.
Miller also has been named in a civil lawsuit in which Wayne County deputies have been accused of using excessive force in executing a search warrant that left a civilian dead.
Jones, according to defense documents, was the judge that found those search warrants illegal, information that prosecutors have argued is not pertinent to the bribery allegations.
“The government is wrong to suggest that the defendant cannot make arguments that undermine the quality, credibility and good faith of the investigation or that call into question the bias and motivations of the officer or the FBI in instituting this sting operation,” the defense team wrote in one of the 98 document entries filed in the case.
Jones, a registered Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term on the Superior Court bench in 2008 and is seeking re-election, was the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission chairman at the time of his arrest. The commission was created by the General Assembly in 2006 and began operating in 2007. Since then, the commission has reviewed hundreds of innocence claims and conducted multiple hearings, some of which have resulted in the freeing of inmates wrongfully convicted of murder.
The defense team has contended Jones was led along by the deputy, in part, because of Jones’ position on the commission, too.
The indictment outlines what the deputy contends happened after Jones inquired about getting the texts for the two numbers.
On Oct. 19, the deputy told the judge there wasn’t the legally required probable cause to get the texts, but said he would continue to try if the judge desired.
“I want down low – see what you can do without drawing attention. … This involves family so I don’t want anybody to know,” Jones said, according to the indictment.
The deputy and judge met in a car on Oct. 27, according to the indictment, where they discussed a fee for the information. Jones reportedly offered the agent “a couple of cases of beer” for helping him get the information.
Several days later, the deputy told the judge he had the information on a disk, though the disk was blank, the defense team has said. In addition to agreeing to shred the disk so it could not be traced back to the deputy’s computer, the judge reportedly told the Miller he had “his paycheck.”
During that time, the indictment states, Jones agreed to give Miller $100 instead of the two cases of Bud Light that initially had been offered. The two met in Goldsboro, and the judge handed over $100 in cash, according to the indictment.
The charges that Jones faces are promising and paying a bribe to a public official, promising and paying a gratuity to a public official and corruptly attempting to influence an official proceeding.