In North Carolina, An Obscure Law Helps Bring Down DA

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Professor Bruce Green was quoted in Law360 in an article on the North Carolina statute that was used to unseat the District Attorney.

An obscure North Carolina statute meant to plug an ethics oversight hole in the state constitution set the stage for a group of people outside the legal and political systems to force a local district attorney out of office.

The law, N.C. General Statute 7A-66, is getting new attention in the state after it was used to unseat an elected district attorney, Greg Newman, who had held his seat as chief prosecutor for three counties south of Asheville since 2013.

Newman’s critics cheered the utility of the law in holding him accountable for ethical breaches that included lying to the family of a teenage rape victim about her attacker’s plea deal.

Legal ethics expert Bruce Green of Fordham University School of Law described the statute as “populist” because it puts no limits on who can file a removal petition or when. It also allows for a public hearing on questions of attorney conduct and discipline that are often adjudicated confidentially.

The “direct petition” also raises interesting due process questions, Green said, because it allows a judge to appoint “independent” counsel for a prosecutorial role focused on presenting evidence of a district attorney’s willful misconduct or failure to fulfill his official duties.

“The victims who initiated this might have felt the prosecutor was executing his power abusively in their matters, but I don’t think in the end that’s what this case is really about,” he said. “It’s about this DA and lawbreaking, not an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”

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