Local Politics

Wright Tries to Halt Ethics Hearing

Posted February 27, 2008 6:29 p.m. EST
Updated February 27, 2008 9:05 p.m. EST

— An embattled state lawmaker filed court papers Wednesday in a bid to prevent his ethics hearing, which is scheduled for next week.

State Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, faces ethical misconduct allegations in connection with his handling of more than $350,000 in campaign donations, loans and charitable money.

The Legislative Ethics Committee plans to begin hearings into the allegations Monday. Those could lead to a vote in the General Assembly to censure or expel Wright.

Wright also has been indicted on five counts of obtaining property by false pretense and one count of obstruction of justice. The charges stem from:

  • $185,000 in campaign donations authorities said weren't reported
  • allegations that the lawmaker used his position to influence a state official to write a letter to help him obtain a $150,000 loan for a real estate deal in Wilmington
  • accusations that he diverted almost $19,000 in contributions and loans into his personal accounts when they were supposed to go to a nonprofit organization he directs

Wright's criminal trial also was set to begin next week, but a judge this week postponed it to give Wright's attorney more time to prepare.

Wright filed a motion Wednesday seeking a temporary restraining order against the ethics committee, saying defending himself at the ethics hearing would harm his position before the criminal trial. Not only would potential jurors be affected by the ethics hearings, prosecutors would learn about Wright's defensive strategy, the motion states.

Wright also alleged in the motion that the General Assembly has no authority to discipline its members, and he asked that the court declare all legislative ethics hearings unconstitutional.

A court hearing on the motion is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Defense attorney Douglas Harris has blamed many of Wright's troubles on sloppy bookkeeping. He has said he expects a jury will find Wright innocent.

Wright has refused to resign, saying voters should determine if he remains in office. He recently announced plans to run for re-election.