Local News

Wright Appears in Court Without Attorney

Posted December 31, 2007 6:52 a.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2007 6:45 p.m. EST

— Indicted state Rep. Thomas Wright appeared in a Wake County courtroom Monday morning, but a judge was miffed that his attorney didn't show up with him.

Wright, an eight-term Democrat from New Hanover County, was indicted three weeks ago on five counts of obtaining property by false pretense and one count of obstruction of justice in connection with unreported campaign contributions and two allegedly fraudulent loans.

North Carolina Central University law professor Irving Joyner went to court Monday with Wright during an initial appearance. But he said he wasn't there to represent the lawmaker, only to state that Douglas Harris, a Greensboro attorney, had been retained to handle Wright's case.

The maneuver didn't please Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens.

"Right now, Mr. Wright is not represented," Stephens said. "You are not representing him for any purpose other than to stand here today and tell me that somebody else is going to be the lawyer in the case."

Joyner said Harris had another client on trial and couldn't make Wright's court hearing.

Stephens ordered Wright to return to court Friday with Harris to ensure that the lawmaker had the proper legal representation.

"I want a lawyer here to stand before me and tell me that he represents Mr. Wright," the judge said.

The only Douglas Harris listed in the North Carolina State Bar directory was disciplined in January 2003 for misappropriating a client's settlement money from an automobile wreck. A State Bar committee voted to suspend Harris' license for two years, but the suspension was stayed on the condition that Harris met certain requirements.

Wright, who was given two boxes of evidence against him collected by investigators, declined to comment on Monday's proceedings.

On Thursday, a six-member House select committee will hold what amounts to a probable cause hearing on five of the six charges against Wright.

The Legislative Ethics Committee can address only one of the obtaining goods by false pretense because it was linked to his role as a legislator. The charge alleged that Wright 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.

The other charges allege he accepted $185,000 in unreported campaign donations and diverted almost $19,000 in contributions and loans into his personal accounts when they were supposed to go into a fund he directs.

Wright has refused to resign, saying the voters would determine whether he remains in office.

If the House decides to remove him, it will be the first time the General Assembly has expelled a member since 1880.