Under the Dome

Candidate Ronald Newton calls himself a lawyer but not an attorney

Ronald Newton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, represents himself as a lawyer even though he acknowledges he has never taken the bar exam and is not licensed to practice law anywhere.

The distinction, according to Newton, who runs a tax firm in Durham, is that anyone who graduates from law school is a “lawyer,” and those who pass the bar and are licensed are “attorneys.”

“I’m not a tax attorney; I’m a tax lawyer,” Newton said this week. “There’s a difference. I think this is a common error people make.”

The error is his, according to the N.C. State Bar, which regulates the practice of law.

The terms are used interchangeably, for purposes of regulation, according to David Johnson, who is in the State Bar section that investigates the unauthorized practice of law.

“Simply graduating from law school is insufficient to be called a lawyer or an attorney,” Johnson said in an email.

Newton identifies himself 16 times as a “tax lawyer” in his recent campaign finance reports filed with the state.

He is also identified 14 times as an attorney in a commercial directory of tax preparers. Newton says he is listed that way in error.

“That’s put on there by a national organization for tax preparers,” he said. “I have been in touch with them several times to get it corrected. I have no control.”

He said he has worked with the Internal Revenue Service to correct the listing, after the federal agency had questions about it.

Newton says he has not misled anyone. He says he always identifies himself as the managing director at his company, State of the Art Financial Services.

“I’ve made every effort I can,” he said. “If I have to correct language that people are complaining about, I’ll let them know I’m a graduate of N.C. Central University law school, with a specialty in taxation. I mean, it’s not a big deal. It’s the same thing to me. But I’ve never told anybody that I was an attorney.”

Newton has owned his tax firm since 1994 and is also a taxation instructor at Durham Technical Community College, according to his campaign website. He was a police officer in Durham in the 1970s, the site says.

Newton reports raising $9,000 in his campaign. He is one of four Democrats hoping for a chance to unseat Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Candidates Linda Coleman and Holly Jones have raised significantly more money. Robert E. Wilson is the fourth Democratic candidate.