An NC judge’s campaign violated state law. Should she be allowed to seek re-election?

The opponent of a Mecklenburg County judge is questioning whether she should have been allowed to run for re-election after state officials ruled that some contributions to her 2014 campaign violated state elections law.

District Judge Alicia Brooks must repay $3,062 in contributions made in 2014, the year she was elected to the bench, the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement wrote Brooks’ campaign committee early last year.

The contributions aren’t allowed because they were listed in lump sums, were over a $50 limit for cash donations or were donated anonymously. Because the campaign had spent all its money by 2017, when the board wrote the committee, the repayment would be due only if Brooks resumed campaigning within three years of the notification letter. Brooks, a Democrat, formed a new campaign committee in May.

Her Republican opponent, Michael Stading, says Brooks is inappropriately taking advantage of a mistake made by the elections board.

“It appears that the Board may have inadvertently erred in allowing Judge Brooks to open a second committee without properly paying the forfeiture of the improper campaign contributions,” Larry Shaheen, Stading’s spokesman, said in an email.

“Publicly elected judges are entrusted with the responsibility to interpret the law. When a publicly elected judge is shown to be not only in violation of the law, but has outright ignored attempts to enforce the law as done here by the proper authorities, it is a violation of the trust of the people.”

Brooks has not responded to requests for comment by the Observer and The News & Observer. In her 2014 campaign, which raised more than $16,000 in contributions, she touted her more than 20 years of legal experience as a former public defender and assistant district attorney.

The elections board has asked Brooks’ committee to document that the contributions in question were permissible, board spokesman Patrick Gannon said Wednesday. Contributions for which documentation isn’t provided will be forfeited, he said.

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District Judge Alicia Brooks File photo

The committee has provided some of that paperwork, Gannon said, and the board expects to receive more. The board can’t say whether it will take further action regarding the contributions until it’s received all information, he said.

But the situation is an unusual one, Gannon said.

“As of now, the State Board office does not have discretion about whether a candidate can open a committee,” Gannon said. “State Board attorneys are considering ways to ensure that outstanding issues are resolved earlier in the process.”

The board fined Brooks’ current campaign committee $500 last week for filing a required report late, but then waived the penalty. Waivers are typically granted committees that have no previous violations or late penalties, Gannon said.