Sunday, October 12, 2008
ABC TV-11 News Acts Proactively and Saves NC Taxpayers Millions
At the bottom of the front page of the October 9, 2008 News & Observer, is an article by staff writer Mark Johnson titled “State’s jet purchase is off, but can we get back the deposit?” First of all, the deposit was earnest money, and since the state reneged on its intention of purchasing the jet, it is not entitled to receive that money back. It should not even attempt to get it back. Sure, it’s a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars down the drain, but its better than wasting an additional nine million to purchase a luxury private jet that the state does not need.
According to the second paragraph of the article, Governor Mike Easley scrubbed the deal after “reporters asked questions about the Cessna citation jet..” What the paper fails to mention is that the reporters were not from the N & O (as one would assume), but from ABC TV-11 News. By proactively investigating the jet purchase and bringing it before the governor after he demanded financial sacrifices from others, it forced the governor to make the wise and prudent choice and cancel the purchase. (At least in the article about Erick Daniels being released from prison after seven years of false imprisonment, the News & Observer gave credit to the Independent Weekly for its proactive involvement in helping to bring about his release.)
The News & Observer is a well read and respected newspaper, and it has the potential to do a lot of good for the lives of North Carolinians, whether in saving taxpayer dollars or acting as an advocate for justice when the system does not work. Had the editorial staff, under Editorial Page Editor Steven Ford, written an article about the jet purchase and opined about the appropriateness of its purchase, then I am sure that Governor Easley would have responded similar to the way he responded when questioned by the ABC reporters.
But, it seems as though the News & Observer’s editorial staff has chosen to sit on the sidelines when it comes to taking a proactive role in effecting the outcome of important issues that affect North Carolinians. It elects to write editorials about issues only after a resolution has been reached; an approach with is safe and lacks courage, but is also of no value to the people. The editorial in the News & Observer Our Views entitled “Free to go: Wrongful convictions are a blight on North Carolina’s courts, even if there’s rejoicing when an innocent man is freed,” was written about Erick Daniels after he was released from prison having been wrongfully incarcerated for seven years. The armed robbery conviction, which was won against the fifteen year old (who was tried as an adult) by Durham Prosecutor Freda Black, was considered to be such a weak case that the Judge refused to allow the case to be re-tried. Had the News & Observer cared enough about Erick Daniels, or about justice for the poor, disenfranchised, and people of color, and taken the effort to express their views on the case, Erick Daniels might have been released much sooner. Even after the May 2007 cover story in the Independent Weekly, the N & O’s editorial staff remained mum.
There remain issues that affect taxpayers’ wallets and have a bearing on the justice they receive, and the News & Observer should get in the game, instead of playing Tuesday morning quarterback. Specifically, the class C felony “accessory after the fact” charge against James Arthur Johnson (who wrongfully spent 39 months in jail before his release without going to trial) involves an excessive waste of taxpayer dollars, and is being undertaken to protect a Wilson prosecutor from a charge of prosecutorial misconduct which was filed with the North Carolina State Bar, in September 2007 by the NAACP.
Since March 2008, W. David McFadyen, a former prosecutor who is now an attorney in the private sector, has been “investigating” whether to further waste taxpayer money by prosecuting James Arthur Johnson for wiping fingerprints off a car (under a charge of “accessory after the fact”). Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster was forced (by her boss, Forsyth County District Attorney Thomas J. Keith) to enter that charge after a “two month” investigation which concluded that charges of capital murder, kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery should be dropped. She did so only under the condition that she not be forced to prosecute the case, so Mr. Keith stated that her workload was so full that she could not be spared to follow the charge to its conclusion. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts was unable to find a prosecutor among its 600 salaried state prosecutors who was willing to take part of the flawed case, so, that task was taken up by an attorney in the private sector. I tried to find out what we taxpayers are wasting on this so-called investigation, and I was told that there was no written contract!
What is further unbelievable is the fact that it took Attorney Foster two months of investigation, while maintaining a full workload in Winston-Salem, to determine that four felony charges of capital murder, kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery should be dropped. Meanwhile, Special Prosecutor McFadyen has spent seven months working on the “accessory after the fact” charge alone. It is not only evident to the objective observer why Belinda Foster filed the “accessory” charge, but why David McFadyen is pursuing it. The state will go to excessive measures and waste taxpayer money to protect its prosecutors who go after the poor, disenfranchised and people of color.
Many months ago, I asked the editorial staff of the News & Observer to investigate the contract with Mr. McFadyen, and give their views on what is both a waste of taxpayer money and a blatant attempt by the State to smear James Johnson’s reputation in order to protect Wilson Prosecutor Bill Wolfe. Furthermore, I asked the paper to respond about the fact that the family and friends of Brittany Willis (the victim for whom Johnson was wrongfully charged) reneged on the twenty thousand dollar ($20,000.00) reward offer which James Johnson rightfully earned. He should have received it long ago, and withholding its payment, does not bode favorable towards the overall impression of his innocence. Furthermore, withholding payment of a reward which is earned for solving a crime is a deterrent for other citizens who might be willing to take a risk and come forward to solve a crime.
The News & Observer needs to come forward on its editorial page and take a proactive stand on positions of justice and financial waste, such as the aforementioned. Also, it should make it clear where it stands with regards to the fairness of the disbarment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Mr. Nifong has the dubious distinction of being the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception.. this despite 27 years of distinguished service to the state as a prosecutor. That statistic, on its face, is an absurdity, especially in light of the recent release of North Carolina death row inmates who were falsely convicted by the prosecutorial misconduct of prosecutors following the tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”
To the editorial staff of the News & Observer, I think the time is past overdue for you to leave your comfort zone, get in the game, and make a positive difference for the people your publication serves.