A Democratic North Carolina legislator accused of sexual misconduct is accusing the group that first reported the allegations of violating rules for nonprofit organizations.
Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democratic Party leaders last week called on state Rep. Duane Hall, a Raleigh attorney, to resign from his District 11 House seat amid allegations that he tried to kiss two women without their consent, and acted inappropriately toward another woman.
The allegations were first detailed in a story published by NC Policy Watch, an organization that is part of the liberal advocacy group NC Justice Center. The Policy Watch story quoted five people, some of whom were anonymous.
Hall has denied the allegations. On Tuesday, he said the Justice Center and Policy Watch must follow their mission statement to work on “issues of concern to low and middle income North Carolinians” and that, by working for a year on the story about him, the group violated federal rules for nonprofits.
The Justice Center is “absolutely prohibited from intervening in a political campaign for or against any candidate for an elective public office,” Hall said in a statement, quoting IRS tax-filing instructions.
He said Policy Watch “must explain their bloggers’ coordination with other political campaigns to time the release of their story for the end of the primary filing. They discussed their yearlong work with my political opponents before publication.”
Hall’s claim about Policy Watch violating nonprofit rules comes two days after he suggested the group has ulterior motives for the story because Hall dated and then broke up with Megan Glazier, the daughter of the executive director of the Justice Center, Rick Glazier. She works at the Justice Center.
Policy Watch editor Rob Schofield said he knew about the relationship but chose not to disclose it because nothing in the group’s reporting “relates to [Megan Glazier] or her relationship with Hall in any way.”
On Tuesday, Schofield said the organization “stands proudly behind its story, which was produced in faithful compliance with all relevant nonprofit rules and without any agenda – personal or political – and without any coordination whatsoever with any outside group or individual.”
One woman quoted in the Policy Watch story, Jessie White, also spoke with The News & Observer and said Hall behaved inappropriately to her on three occasions. White now lives in Orlando, but used to live in North Carolina and has worked on Democratic campaigns since 2014.
‘I believe the women’
State Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County, the House minority leader, on Tuesday reiterated his call for Hall to step down.
“I’d hoped that Rep. Hall would resign and try to make some amends, and make some apologies and change some behavior, and instead it appears that he has decided to attack and take an offensive posture,” Jackson said. “That’s not the way I would handle it. I’ve stated for the record that I believe the women, I believe the complaints, and I think he should resign.”
State Rep. Mary Belk, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, on Tuesday wrote a Facebook post that described Hall’s behavior “reprehensible” and joined several of her Democratic peers in calling on Hall to resign.
Sen. Dan Blue of Wake County, the Senate minority leader, said he doesn’t know enough about the allegations to offer a statement.
“Frankly, I’m not versed enough on it to give you an opinion of what his position is or ought to be,” Blue said.
On sexual harassment policies at the legislature, Blue said “I think there needs to be very clear lines. We need to define it using a 21st century standard, not 18th or 19th century standards.”
He continued: “If I had to take a guess, we’re probably at least a half a century behind where we ought to be in firm policies so that it’s clear.”
A tweet in question?
Hall’s statement alluded to a tweet from Ben Julen, a former Equality NC worker who was quoted in the first Policy Watch story. Julen told Policy Watch that Hall “wouldn’t take no for an answer” from a woman at an event in 2016.
Hall suggested that Julen had “political motivations” because Julen on Feb. 12 asked on Twitter: “Literally any Democratic woman please primary Duane Hall. It’s Wake County you will win it’s not like he has a leadership record [to] run on!!”
Policy Watch published its initial story on Feb. 28 – the final day to file to run for a seat in the legislature – and Julen was one of two witnesses quoted about the gala incident, but the only witness who was identified by name. Policy Watch published a second story on March 1, which identified progressive advocate Jonah Hermann as another witness.
Julen, for his part, said he posted a negative tweet about Hall because of what he’d seen at the gala.
“I witnessed his predatory behavior first hand,” Julen told the N&O Tuesday.
“Of course I don’t want him to win re-election,” he said. “His PR firm’s attempts to discredit these facts using a timeline of tweets from a 23 year old nursing student reveal Duane’s desperation rather than undermine my credibility.”
Board meeting Thursday
Ann McColl, a Raleigh-based attorney, is co-chairwoman of the board of directors at the Justice Center. She said Tuesday that the full board is scheduled to meet on Thursday and all members would have an opportunity to ask any questions they have about the Hall story and how Policy Watch handled it.
“All my conversations so far give me great confidence in what the Justice Center has done with the Hall story,” McColl said without further elaboration. Other board members reached have declined to comment.
Jonathan Jones, director of the NC Open Government Coalition and an expert on the media at Elon University, said he thinks Policy Watch made an ethical mistake by failing to disclose that Glazier dated Hall.
“That opens the door for people to question Policy Watch’s motives and credibility, as Mr. Hall is trying to do now,” Jones said. “News organizations should always err on the side of disclosure when it comes to potential conflicts of interest, whether they are real or perceived.”
But Jones thinks Policy Watch is on stable legal footing – so long as their reporting is accurate.
“If it turns out they have published a falsehood, then it is possible they would have a potential libel problem, but it is very difficult for public officials to prove libel because they must show the publisher knew the story was false or had reason to know it was false,” Jones said.
Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.