Local News

Former Person DA pleads guilty to harassing women

Posted July 8, 2010 11:25 a.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2010 6:31 p.m. EDT

— The former district attorney for Person and Caswell counties pleaded guilty Thursday to inappropriately touching and kissing women and using dismissed cases to win votes in his re-election campaigns.

Joel Brewer pleaded guilty to seven counts of assault on a female and one count each of impersonating a law enforcement officer and willfully failing to discharge duties.

"I want to, with deep remorse, apologize to the people involved here," a shaken Brewer said in court. "I also apologize to this community and my family and friends."

Cabarrus County Chief District Judge William Hamby Jr., who was brought in from outside to handle the case, sentenced him to 105 days in prison, which was suspended to three years on probation. Hamby also ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine and perform 200 hours of community service.

The maximum jail time Brewer could have received for the nine misdemeanors was 120 days.

Defense attorney George Daniel said the North Carolina State Bar has already told Brewer that they want to question him about the case, but Katherine Jean, general counsel for the State Bar, wouldn't confirm Thursday that an investigation was pending.

If Brewer loses his law license for at least 90 days, the $50,000 fine would be cut in half, Hamby said.

The State Bureau of Investigation filed the charges against Brewer last month, following a seven-month investigation. Brewer retired in February – during the middle of the probe – after 16 years as district attorney.

Deputy Attorney General Jim Coman called Brewer a "predator" and asked Hamby to order him to undergo counseling for "inappropriate sexual issues."

"This is clearly a case of a person in power victimizing the powerless," Coman said. "This individual, probably because of the position he held, believed that he was above the law."

Hamby ordered the counseling, which Daniel said Brewer has already started. If he retains his law license, Brewer also would be barred from being appointed to represent indigent women.

Prosecutors detailed in court how Brewer violated women who worked in his office and whom he met during daily activities.

  • He called a female employee into his office, told her she smelled nice, grabbed her hand and put it on him.
  • He put his hand on the thigh of another female employee while they were returning from a trip to the legislature in Raleigh.
  • A woman who had known him for some time went to speak to him about a ticket she had received, and he hugged her and tried to give her $100.
  • He put his hands on two women who worked at a dry cleaner in Roxboro, including a 16-year-old.
  • A female employee at the Roxboro County Club was sitting in a golf cart when he ran some money up her thigh and told her she could make more tips if she dressed more provocatively.
  • He touched another female Roxboro Country Club employee on the buttocks and told her, "You make me feel young."

Most of the women feared the possible repercussions if they reported the incidents because of Brewer's prominence in the community, prosecutors said. So, they remained silent.

Brewer also stopped female drivers by flashing a gold badge, and directed an assistant district attorney to dismiss a case against a woman with whom Brewer had been trying to pursue a relationship, prosecutors said.

He also kept a file of minor citations he dismissed and during past elections, called the offenders and ask them for their vote and help working the polls, prosecutors said.

SBI agents searched Brewer's office at the Person County Courthouse in February and seized two folders containing pink copies of citations, notes, phone messages and letters, according to a search warrant. One file was for male defendants, and the other was for female defendants, the warrant stated.

Agents also seized a gold-colored badge with "District Attorney" and "J.H. Brewer" engraved on the shield, according to the warrant.

Daniel called the badge issue "a misunderstanding," saying Brewer heard that other district attorneys carried gold badges as the chief law enforcement officer in their counties.

Hamby ordered that the badge be destroyed.

Daniel and fellow defense attorney Butch Williams gave the judge numerous letters supporting Brewer from community members and they asked that he not serve any jail time, noting that he is involved in various community activities.

Williams said after the court hearing that Brewer was satisfied with the outcome.

"He's happy that everyone can now move on and the system can go ahead," Williams said.