RALEIGH, N.C. — Former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice charges Thursday afternoon. The judge in the case decided to postpone sentencing until Nov. 12.
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens granted a request by defense lawyer Wade Smith to postpone her sentencing. During the sentencing hearing, Stephens lectured Phipps about her actions.
"From the evidence that I heard in the courtroom, that jury could have reached no other verdict," he said. "Ms. Phipps has done great harm to the legal profession and to the people of this state. Her conduct does greatly impugn the integrity of the legal profession, and her conduct has greatly (impugned) the integrity of the government. And she has brought dishonor upon those institutions."
Phipps was later taken into custody by sheriff's deputies and taken to the Wake County Jail. Smith later asked the judge if he would reconsider his decision, but Stephens declined. Officials said Phipps will be treated like any other inmate.
Along with her cell block, Phipps will be assigned a jumpsuit and will receive a bed if one is available. If not, she will get a mattress pad.
Jurors convicted Phipps of perjury, aiding and abetting perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Phipps was found not guilty of encouraging former campaign aide Linda Saunders to lie to the state elections board and to an administrative law judge.
Phipps was accused of covering up illegal funds from her campaign. Phipps and other members of her campaign staff also allegedly knew of illegal activities used to repay a loan to former aide Bobby McLamb.
Jurors returned their verdict shortly before 1 p.m. They had started their deliberations around 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Phipps, 47, remained calm as the verdict was read.
"The jury was very thoughtful and deliberate. They spend a lot of time going through the case. They were very careful. They arrived at the right verdict," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "This is a sad chapter in our North Carolina history and there is no joy on this day."
"We are disappointed. We had great hope. We prepared for the trial with great hope," said Roger Smith, another of Phipps' attorneys. "We tried the case with great hope and we are disappointed in the outcome."
Phipps' family issued a statement Thursday after the verdict.
"We love Meg as our daughter, wife, sister and mother. She is so very dear to our family. We continue to believe in her and will steadfastly support her through our prayers and our presence no matter what. We are especially thankful for the great outpouring of love we have received throughout this ordeal from so many friends across the state."
Phipps was elected agriculture commissioner in 2000, replacing longtime Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham. Her father is former Gov. Bob Scott. Phipps resigned in July after members of her campaign staff were indicted.
Gov. Mike Easley would not comment on the verdict, but many people in the community are reacting to the outcome of this high-profile trial.
"The verdict itself, I don't think, was a surprise," said former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said. "The weight of the evidence was overwhelming. Six people aren't going to come in and lie."
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law, particularly someone of her background," said Chris Heagarty, of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. "You hate to see it. You hate to see a great name tarnished."
Phipps faces either probation or up to four years in prison.
Phipps will head back to court next month to be arraigned on federal charges. She faces a 30-count indictment on charges related to her 2000 campaign. Those charges include bribery, perjury, mail fraud and obstruction of justice. A conviction on all charges could carry a maximum penalty of 500 years in prison.