Thursday, April 17, 2008

"First they came..."

By Fern H. Shubert
As printed in The County Edge (April 18, 2008)

When I ran for Governor, I carried with me a copy of a poem that once was well known but now seems unknown to far too many in Raleigh: 
First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, 
because I wasn’t a Communist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, 
because I wasn’t a Jew. 
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, 
because I was a Protestant. 
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left 
to speak up for me.

The poem, by Rev. Martin Niemoller, “was printed in Time magazine on August 28, 1989, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II.” (From Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.) There are many variations on the wording of the poem, but all describe the way Hitler and his National Socialist Workers Party came to power.

Of course, in “Progressive” circles, mentioning Hitler was a socialist is unpopular, but the name of his party leaves little doubt of his politics. The methods he used remain popular in North Carolina politics. “Divide and conquer” is definitely still in vogue.

That is why, when a friend informed me he was told that my columns on Thomas Wright were ruining my reputation, my response was, “Says who? The people responsible for the media circus that denied Wright a fair trial may not like what I’m saying, but that’s their problem.” 

Some people apparently believe that because Wright was a Democrat, I should ignore the fact he was denied a fair trial. My response is to suggest they read and then reread the poem at the beginning of this article and then ask themselves the simple question, was Wright accorded due process? Was he treated as you would hope and expect to be treated if accused of a felony? Did he get a fair trial?

Campaign reporting is not the issue on which Wright was tried, but the charges were based on an investigation triggered by the State Board of Elections. Gee, I wonder how they decided to investigate Wright? Joe Sinsheimer has filed complaints about a lot of people who have not been investigated. What prompted Sinsheimer, right after the November 2006, elections to single out Wright and ignore bigger fish?

How many remember the case of Matt McWilliams who made the mistake of filing to run against Richard Morgan several years ago? I did not, but after I ran into Dave Burton at the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury luncheon on e-mail scandals, he was kind enough to send me the following reminder:


After Matt announced he intended to run against Morgan, they hit him with seven felony charges because of $261 in mishandled campaign contributions in a prior school board campaign:

What's more, the reason his previous school board campaign was investigated was that Moore Co. BOE director Glenda Clendenin asked the State Board to investigate him BECAUSE she learned that he was running against Morgan... and we know that is true because SBOE investigator Marshall Tutor said it right out loud, to a reporter:

That may sound pretty strong, but the press links show that McWilliams was indicted “on seven felony charges — five counts of obtaining money by false pretenses and two counts of perjury. He was accused of filing false reports with the state board of elections in connection with his run for the nonpartisan school board in 2002.” (The Pilot, September 10, 2004)

McWilliams claimed his prosecution was politically motivated, which was, of course, denied. But the press reports give the charge considerable credibility.

The state elections board official who handled the case acknowledged “The investigation really began when he filed papers to run for the House here in Moore County.” (The Pilot, September 10, 2004) In other words, had he not filed to run for the House, no one would have cared what he did or did not do in the school board race.

McWilliams eventually reached a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to one count in return for a suspended sentence with 90 days of house arrest. I suspect his legal fees were a greater punishment than the sentence. Maybe he deserved the sentence. I did not sit through that trial, and I know better than to form final judgments based on press accounts. Still, it is interesting to consider who gets to decide who gets investigated. 

For example, while the public was entertained by the Thomas Wright circus, District Attorney Colon Willoughby decided the Centex contract with Jim Black's son wasn't worth his time to pursue, but it was too sensitive to even release the SBI report. An informant claimed Centex gave Black’s son a sub-contract for the prisons as part of the deal to get Centex the contract to build the prisons. The accusation sounds plausible enough that the public deserves more information than Willoughby has made available to date.

Wright was convicted of using a non-profit to steal from the foundation he helped establish because Willoughby thought that charge was worth investigating. Don’t get me wrong. I think those who abuse non-profits to line their own pockets deserve prosecution. But who decides who gets investigated and prosecuted? 

I supported Steve Monk’s run for DA in Durham against Mike Nifong before Nifong’s reputation crumbled, because Nifong’s handling of the Duke lacrosse case was offensive to me. Was I wrong then?

Nifong won the DA race because the majority of the public supported him based on what they had read in the papers, but remember what happened next? What happened in that case should be instructive of how public perception can be manipulated by the unscrupulous until reality intrudes.

In fact, it is somewhat ironic that earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty Jr., who is presiding over the suit brought by 38 current and former lacrosse players against Duke University, the city of Durham and others “ordered lawyers on both sides not to publicly discuss the case to protect a potential jury pool.” (Charlotte Observer, April 16, 2008)

How is it that Judge Beaty is aware of the problems posed by a tainted jury pool, while the highest public officials in the state seemed almost eager to insure that Thomas Wright would not receive a fair trial? 

Thomas Wright’s attorney ran out of challenges because so many jurors were well aware that Wright had already been found guilty by the House, but Judge Hight saw no reason to postpone the trial. A lawyer was even seated as a juror who had revealed she had family ties to the prosecutor, something Wright’s attorney said he would not have allowed if he had any challenges left.

How tainted was the jury pool? Questions should be being raised about why an attorney whose mother went to law school with the District Attorney was even seated.

Even more interesting questions could be being raised about why Colon Willoughby did not disclose he knew about the $4,900 interest payment Wright made on behalf of the foundation until Wright’s attorney raised the issue in court. Wright claimed he had reimbursable expenses. If the District Attorney knew that he had made payments on behalf of the foundation, was he not required to disclose them? I’m told he did not.

Maybe I am nuts, as some have suggested, but I'll stake my reputation as a CPA on the fact that a lot of our leading citizens act more like RICO targets than pillars of the church.

I'm still quite willing to stake my political reputation on my longstanding assertion that Jim Black was the runt of the litter when it came to corruption, which means the big boys are still in business, does it not? The Parton Theater is pocket change compared to what I expect to be revealed over time.
Speaking of church, my church has a new minister and Sunday he told the story of a nosy neighbor who, watching the couple next door standing outside, saw the husband slap the wife on the side of her head and then run to the car and take off in a hurry. Obviously, from what he saw, a sad case of domestic abuse. 

Actually, the husband was hitting a wasp that had landed on his wife’s head. Despite his attempt to protect her, she had been stung and he was hurrying to the drugstore to get something for the sting. The scripture was on the blind man given sight, not current events, but it was timely, as always.
What you see depends on where you stand and what you know, as well as what you expect and what you hope to see. Auditors are trained to try to see more than the casual observer, which is why I keep wandering away from the herd. I’m looking for facts.

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