Local Politics

Special Legislative Session Possible to Discipline Wright

Posted December 11, 2007 6:11 p.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2007 9:06 a.m. EST

— State House Speaker Joe Hackney said Tuesday that a special legislative session might be necessary to consider possible disciplinary action against an indicted Wilmington lawmaker.

State Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, was indicted Monday on five counts of obtaining property by false pretense and one count of obstruction of justice in connection with unreported campaign contributions and two loans.

Wright has been unavailable for comment since a Wake County grand jury returned the indictments. He previously said he had no intention of stepping down, saying voters should decide whether he remains in office.

Hackney asked the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to consider the criminal charges against Wright to determine whether any disciplinary action is warranted.

"The House will move ahead expeditiously to resolve the matter," he said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. "If there are findings and recommendations, I would anticipate that there would be a special session to consider them. It certainly is not appropriate to have these matters hanging around until May, when we come back."

Numerous lawmakers called for Wright to resign months ago as evidence built up against him. Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday that the time for Wright to step down is overdue.

"When this kind of indictment is hanging over your head and everybody's keeping their distance from you, the truth of the matter is you can't be effective," Easley said. "If you really care about your district, it's time to step aside and let somebody else take over."

Five of the criminal charges involve $185,000 in unreported campaign donations and almost $19,000 in contributions and loans that were to have gone to a foundation Wright directs but that were never deposited in the nonprofit organization's accounts. The sixth charge alleges that Wright used his political influence to obtain a loan for a real estate deal in Wilmington.

The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee had begun to review the case against Wright, but Hackney said that was put on hold at the request of Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.

Willoughby didn't want to compromise the criminal investigation, Hackney said, but the prosecutor said all information in the criminal case would now be provided to legislators for the ethics case.