Wendy Terry may have kept many secrets about her professional conduct for more than a decade. But one, once hinted at, appears to have lasted less than a day. On Tuesday afternoon, an indictment was returned alleging that, in late July, Terry, an assistant district attorney in Davidson County, sent a text message to a district judge, offering $20,000 for a superior court judicial seat, the Winston Salem Journal reports.
The offer was allegedly made on a Thursday. And come Monday, the SBI was involved, and Terry was placed on administrative leave, the county’s district attorney, Garry Frank, told WXII12.
Quid pro quo indictment
The six-count indictment alleges that Terry promised to contribute $20,000 to Davidson County District Court Judge April Wood’s campaign, with strings attached: Wood would need to persuade her husband, Jeffrey Berg, to bow out of the race for a superior court seat that Terry wanted to fill. (Judge Theodore “Ted” Royster’s Davidson County Superior Court seat is up for grabs in 2016.) The indictment also alleges that Terry offered to front Berg’s filing fee if he would run for a district court seat instead, according to WXII12’s report.
Judge Wood announced through Facebook on July 22 that her husband would be running for the District 22B superior court seat, the Lexington Dispatch reported. Terry allegedly propositioned Wood by text message the next day.
Terry was indicted by the Davidson Count Grand Jury on the following counts:
- two counts of felony buying and selling offices;
- felony obstructing justice;
- misdemeanor primary/election violation;
- attempt to violate campaign contribution limits; and
- attempt to obtain property by false pretenses.
Under North Carolina law, permissible campaign contributions are capped at $5,100.
Lack of integrity in Davidson County District Attorney’s office
“Former Assistant District Attorney Accused of Corruption,” WFMY News 2 reported, summing up the scoop in a single sentence: “The word ‘unlawful’ is being associated with someone trusted with upholding the law.”
But allegations of corruption in the Davidson County DA’s office, while newsworthy, are not new. We just recently covered several stories on Jamie LaPrad, North Carolina’s “Candy Cane Prosecutor” who was fired from her Davidson County post last year after word got out that LaPrad’s colleague had obtained a restraining order against her.
And while LaPrad never faced criminal charges, an added irony for Terry is she likely sought indictments as a prosecutor from the very grand jury that ultimately indicted her. (It’s also worth mentioning that Terry is married to Davidson County District Court Judge Carlton Terry, who was publicly reprimanded in 2008 by the Judicial Standards Commission for ex parte communications on Facebook.)
Both LaPrad and Terry appear to have considered themselves above the law.
An editorial in the Lexington Dispatch touched on this, commenting on the lack of integrity in the Davidson County DA’s office:
For the second time in a year, a prosecutor has left the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office under dubious circumstances.
. . . [T]he personnel issues are troubling in an office charged with prosecuting those who violate the law.
But calling them “troubling” stops short of the issues’ actual import. With the integrity of our criminal justice system depending, as it does, on the integrity of the actors involved, the latest news out of North Carolina’s District 22B again poses serious questions about the caliber of justice that district is doling out.
Moreover, that LaPrad and Terry both worked as prosecutors in the district for so many years before having their character revealed to the public only accentuates these concerns.
According to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, over two-fifths (42.8%) of Americans consider prosecutorial misconduct widespread, a strong majority (71.4%) thinks most cases of prosecutorial misconduct are kept hidden from the public, and a similarly strong majority (73.5%) believes prosecutors who commit misconduct are almost never punished. So, even though it certainly took far too long in both instances for LaPrad and Terry to be exposed, the public can perhaps take some solace in knowing that it did finally happen.
Potential consequences for Terry
Wendy Terry resigned this week from the Davidson County District Attorney’s office, where she worked as an assistant district attorney for over ten years. But losing her job is likely the least of Terry’s worries. If convicted, she could face jail time.
Felony common law obstruction of justice is a Class H felony under section 14-3(b) of the North Carolina General Statutes. North Carolina law requires that Class H felons be sentenced to between four and twenty-five months, depending on their prior convictions. And while no prior convictions can mean community or intermediate punishment, anyone convicted of a Class H felony can be sentenced to active jail time.
The charges for buying and selling offices are Class I felonies. Each carries a presumptive sentence of four to six months community punishment.
Last but certainly not least, the attempted obtaining property by false pretenses charge also is a Class
I H felony,* if the value is less than $100,000. But if the value is $100,000 or more, it becomes a Class D C felony,* which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of thirty-eight forty-four months active jail time.
Terry’s annual salary was $62,000, the Winston-Salem Journal reports. And with the average salary for superior court judges—who all serve eight-year terms—currently hovering around $135,000, it appears the superior court seat was worth well over $100,000 to Terry, which means this could end up being her most serious offense.
Think Terry can make friends behind bars with the criminals she put there?
The former prosecutor turned criminal defendant has an October 5, 2015 court date in Davidson County Superior Court.
*CORRECTION: Post edited December 13, 2015 to correct errors in the classification of the attempted obtaining property by false pretenses felony offense. Because N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-100(a)
- includes attempt as part of the substantive offense (“obtain or attempt to obtain”), and
- expressly states that a commission of the offense is either a Class C or a Class H felony (depending on “the value of the money, goods, property, services, chose in action, or other things of value”),
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-2.5 should not apply.
- ABA Journal
- The Dispatch
- Jonathan Turley
- State v. Taylor, 212 N.C. App. 238, 713 S.E.2d 82 (2011)
- North Carolina’s Felony Punishment Chart
- North Carolina District and Superior Court Calendar
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-274
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.13
Interesting note: The Master Calendar of Superior Courts shows Judge Ted Royster (who Terry sought to unseat) and Judge Julia Lynn Gullett presiding in Davidson County Superior Court on October 5, 2015. If the case goes before Judge Royster, he will presumably recuse himself based on the conflict of interest.