A Superior Court judge was convicted Friday on charges that he tried to bribe a federal agent with two cases of Bud Light to get copies of text messages from the phones of the judge’s wife and another man.
A defense attorney announced immediate plans to appeal the verdict against Wayne County Judge Arnold O. Jones II. The verdict came after jurors deliberated for less than an hour.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 23. But before then, the defense team will get one more opportunity to argue to U.S. District Judge James C. Fox that the case should not have gone to the jury because prosecutors failed to bring enough evidence.
Jones – the senior resident Superior Court judge in Wayne County – is on administrative leave from his post but campaigning for re-election in November.
He was convicted of three felonies – paying a bribe to a public official, promising and paying a gratuity to a public official, and corruptly attempting to influence an official proceeding.
The convictions are likely to bring an inquiry from the judicial standards commission and the N.C. State Bar, which could jeopardize Jones’ law license and his job. Judicial standards representatives were in the Wilmington courtroom during the trial.
Jones was accused of texting a Wayne County deputy, who also is a member of an FBI gang task force, to get copies of text messages that were exchanged between two other numbers. The FBI can only obtain such records with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge based on suspicion of criminal activity.
Shortly after marrying his wife, he began having concerns about her fidelity. 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.
Court documents from the defense team of Arnold O. Jones II
According to a federal indictment issued last year, the judge told the agent the messages were “just for (him)” and “involve(d) family members.” The texts were from phones that belonged to the judge’s wife and another man.
“Shortly after marrying his wife, he began having concerns about her fidelity,” the defense team stated in court documents leading up to the trial. “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 contended that Jones was never told by Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Miller 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 last 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.
Jones, a registered Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term on the Superior Court bench in 2008, was the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission chairman at the time of his arrest. The commission, created by the General Assembly in 2006, 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, 2015, 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.
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 ‘ 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 jury’s verdict affirms a bedrock principle of the rule of law,” John Bruce, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said in a statement afterward. “No person holding a position of public trust in our legal system is permitted to subvert that system for his own personal objectives.”
John Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina, added, “Corruption will not be tolerated, no matter the level of government, the complexity of the scheme or the names of those committing the fraud. Rooting out public corruption is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority, and we rely on our law enforcement partners and citizens to help us identify those offenders who put our democracy at risk.”
Geoff Hulse, a Goldsboro attorney on Jones’ defense team, said the judge remains on the November ballot.
“He and his family appreciate all the support he has had,” Hulse said.