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Former DA charged in wife-hiring scheme can't get judge off case

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday refused to step aside and let another judge oversee the case of a former district attorney of Caswell and Person counties accused of hiring another prosecutor's wife for a no-show job.

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Amanda Lamb
, WRAL reporter, & Matthew Burns, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor
RALEIGH, N.C. — A Superior Court judge on Wednesday refused to step aside and let another judge oversee the case of a former district attorney of Caswell and Person counties accused of hiring another prosecutor's wife for a no-show job.

Wallace Bradsher faces charges of felony conspiracy, obtaining property by false pretense, aiding and abetting obstruction of justice and failure to discharge duties.

Bradsher, who is representing himself, filed a motion Tuesday to remove Judge Paul Ridgeway from the case, charging that he cannot be objective when Wake County District Attoney Lorrin Freeman initially investigated the case and charged him. At the same time, Bradsher also wants to call Ridgeway as a character witness, which also would be reason for the judge to step aside.

Freeman stepped away from the case last August, and state officials appointed retired prosecutor Tom Ford to handle it.

Ridgeway said he hasn't been called as a witness, so that issue cannot be addressed yet. He bristled at the suggestion that his working relationship with Freeman would make him biased in the case, saying only that it "heightens my responsibility" to handle the case impartially.

"Judges cannot be required to recuse themselves even if they have worked closely on administrative issues with the DA," Ridgeway said in denying Bradsher's motion.

Bradsher, who resigned last May, spent Monday grilling Freeman, alleging that she conspired with the State Bureau of Investigation to handle his case differently than the case against Craig Blitzer, the former Rockingham County district attorney.

Blitzer, who resigned last March, pleaded guilty in July to failure to discharge the duties of his office, a misdemeanor. He hasn't yet been sentenced.

Bradsher also argued that Freeman spoke to freely with reporters about his case, turning public opinion against him.

"It's one thing to draw conclusions as a prosecutor and bring charges. It's completely another to say it publicly in the press while a criminal investigation is pending," he said. "In media, social media, sound bites, on TV and in print, media don't have the same safeguards that we have in [court].

"It heightens the condemnation of the accused," he continued. "That's going to happen in some extent in our current media environment, but when you have an elected prosecutor say it, it has the full force of the office to send that message out that, oh, that must be true."

Blitzer has said that he and Bradsher concocted a scheme at a Wentworth, N.C., pizza parlor in early 2015 to hire each other's wives after officials with the state Administrative Office of the Courts informed them that ethics rules prohibit prosecutors from employing relatives.

At the time, Cindy Blitzer was enrolled full-time in nursing school in High Point, and when she and her husband expressed concerns about her meeting her work obligations in Caswell County, Bradsher told her he would "take care of the time sheets," according to an affidavit filed in the case.

Craig Blitzer also helped his wife's schooling by getting people on his staff to take an online math course for her.

Former Rockingham County District Attorney Craig Blitzer leaves a Wake County courtroom on July 17, 2017, after pleading guilty to failing to discharge his official duties in connection with a scheme to get his wife a job.

Ridgeway said he would rule later on Bradsher's motion alleging prosecutorial misconduct by Freeman, and Bradsher withdrew his motion alleging the case was vindictive prosecution.

Ford said the vindictive prosecution motion was filed solely to smear his and Freeman's reputation, and he asked Ridgeway to sanction Bradsher.

The State Bureau of Investigation began looking into the work arrangement of Cindy Blitzer and Pam Bradsher in 2016 after an assistant district attorney in Rockingham County and a staffer in Wallace Bradsher's office tipped off authorities that the women were being paid for work they didn't perform.

Investigators determined that Pam Bradsher did the work she was paid to do but that Cindy Blitzer earned $48,000 from her no-show job.

Craig Blitzer repaid the state the $48,000 as part of his plea agreement.

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