State employee group's ads in Wake DA race called dishonest
Posted April 24, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Direct-mail ads in the race for Wake County district attorney have prompted a fiery response from one candidate and an apology from another.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina has endorsed Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger in the Democratic primary but targeted his opponent, Lorrin Freeman, in a recent mailer.
Freeman currently serves as clerk of Wake County Superior Court, and two former employees were recently charged with conspiring with bail bondsmen to cheat the court system out of more than $1 million. The Wake County Public School System, which gets forfeited bonds, is trying to reclaim the money through legal action.
"If she can't manage a couple of clerks in her own office, how can we trust her to put Wake County's most dangerous criminals behind bars?" the SEANC mailer reads.
SEANC director Dana Cope said Thursday that his group is getting into the race because the Wake County district attorney prosecutes state government corruption cases.
"It looks like bail bondsmen were trying to buy her office in order to make sweetheart deals among themselves. We can't stand that in state government," Cope said.
An incensed Freeman pointed out that she was the one who called in the State Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney Colon Willoughby to look into the alleged bond scheme.
"Special interests are trying to buy the court system in Wake County, and it's wrong, and people need to stand up and say, 'This court system, the justice system, the district attorney is our attorney and represents us,'" Freeman said.
Willoughby, who stepped down last month as district attorney, said Freeman was the one who uncovered the scheme, and he takes issue with SEANC's criticism.
"The district attorney's office ought to be one about honesty and integrity. These ads are not honest, and I'm very disappointed," he said.
Some of Freeman's supporters said they believe the real reason she's being targeted is for speaking out about a SEANC lending program that she feels takes advantage of state employees.
An Atlanta company called Purchasing Power allows the SEANC's 55,000 members to buy items and then make monthly payments through payroll deductions over a year. The payment plans sometimes result in workers paying double the retail cost for items such as high-definition televisions, tablet computers and gaming consoles.
Cope scoffed at the allegation that the mailer is payback for Freeman's criticism.
Zellinger said he appreciates SEANC's endorsement, but he doesn't support the mailer. He said he said shared his concerns about it with the group's leaders.
"That mailer is not something I would have done, and of course, (it) didn't come from our campaign," he said. "I don't agree with thinking that she's corrupt or has done anything untoward."
Four candidates are running in the Republican primary for district attorney: John Walter Bryant, Jeff Cruden, Jefferson Griffin and Terry Swaim.