State News

Judge: Fellow judge berated her over day off

Posted September 10, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2009 11:06 a.m. EDT

— A Mecklenburg County judge on Thursday testified that a fellow judge screamed at her and insulted her in February because she denied his request for a day off.

The state Judicial Standards Commission held a hearing on whether to discipline Mecklenburg County District Judge Bill Belk.

Belk, who was elected to the bench in November, has been accused of making disparaging comments about state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker and Mecklenburg County Chief District Judge Lisa Bell. He's also accused of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct for continuing to serve on a corporate board.

Bell testified that Belk wanted to get out of a scheduled day of criminal court in February so he could attend a board meeting of Sonic Automotive Inc., a Charlotte-based chain of car dealerships. She said she turned down the request, noting that the Judicial Standards Commission had advised against Belk's position as a Sonic Automotive director.

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."

Bell said she felt "physically threatened," but she said he apologized for the outburst three days later. He said he needed his director's job at Sonic Automotive because it provided him with insurance to cover health problems, she testified.

Steven Coss, general counsel for Sonic Automotive, testified that Belk was paid about $143,500 a year in cash and stock for serving as a director.

Belk has said the conduct code does not explicitly prohibit work on corporate boards and that the outside work has not violated the court's impartiality. He has denied making disparaging remarks about Parker.

"Judge Belk has done nothing – absolutely nothing – to warrant punishment," said his attorney, Marshall Basinger.

Belk started to testify shortly before the hearing ended Thursday. A date for the continuation of the hearing wasn't set.

If the commission disciplines Belk, the penalty could range from a public reprimand to suspension or removal from the bench.