Local News

Mecklenburg County judge defends role on board

Posted September 30, 2009 10:20 a.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2009 6:42 p.m. EDT

— Mecklenburg County District Judge Bill Belk defended his position on the board of a Charlotte-based chain of car dealerships at a hearing of the Judicial Standards Commission Wednesday.

The commission is considering whether to discipline Belk for his service on the board and allegations that he made disparaging comments about two judicial colleagues.

Belk said serving on the board of Sonic Automotive Inc. is “never going to be an issue” because all of the company’s dealerships are out of state.

Attorneys for the commission argued serving on a private corporation's board violates code.

“It is a selfish pursuit of himself for compensation,” Judicial Standards Commission attorney Nancy Vecchia said.

Mecklenburg County Chief District Judge Lisa Bell testified earlier this month that Belk wanted to get out of a scheduled day of criminal court in February so he could attend a Sonic Automotive board meeting. She said she turned down the request, noting that the Judicial Standards Commission had advised against Belk's position on the board.

Belk confronted Bell about her decision and became enraged when she said she wouldn't change her mind, she testified.

"He said I was nothing but a media hound and a political hack," Bell said. "He screamed at me to leave him alone and said I should be ashamed of what I was doing."

During Wednesday's testimony, Belk admitted that he called Bell a media hound and political hack but said he apologized to her.

Bell said she felt "physically threatened" during the incident. Belk, who represented himself at the hearing, said that Bell followed him out of her office during the confrontation. "She came after me," he said.

"I'm not the aggressor in this situation," Belk said.

After the incident, Belk said Bell tried to get other judges to complain about him.

"She was going to judges and setting me up to have complaints against me,” Belk said.

Belk described Bell as a "bright young woman" who is active in her community. He also pointed out her friendship with Ben Thalheimer, the judge he defeated in November.

During closing arguments, Belk described this situation has been "one of the worst experiences" of his life.

Vecchia reiterated that Bell felt physically threatened by Belk. Vecchia also said Belk's encounter with Bell "demeans the standards of judicial office."

Belk represented himself during the hearing. Earlier his attorney asked to be withdrawn from the case after claiming Belk hadn't paid him.

Belk could face a censure, suspension or removal from the bench. A decision should come sometime in the next few months.