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(Editor’s Note: Readers should be cautioned that several of the descriptions of scalping and related practices presented in this column are graphic.)     

When I was a boy, incidents of scalping by Native Americans were a staple in the old-time movies about the “Wild West.” And there is no doubt whatsoever that the western tribes utilized that practice. But what about the Cherokee, Creek, Catawba and other southeastern tribes — to what extent was scalping a part of their warfare and ritual?

The attorney who argued for the impeachment of former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert has been issued an order from the Cherokee Tribal Court requiring him to show the court why allegations against him from former Attorney General Danny Davis shouldn’t result in disciplinary action.

The attorney general of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians appointed during the administration of Principal Chief Patrick Lambert has decided to resign from his position, his last day Sept. 22 coming just 17 months after his April 2016 appointment.

Court-appointed lawyers are the crux of the U.S justice system because it is their duty to ensure every U.S. citizen is granted their constitutional right to a fair trial, but many lawyers in Western North Carolina are concerned a new pilot program implemented by the state could threaten that right.

Macon is one of six counties across the state that is being included in a pilot program in which court-appointed lawyers are compensated using a flat-fee schedule instead of an hourly rate. According to data from the Indigent Defense Office of North Carolina, indigent defense costs increased 168 percent between 1989 and 1999 while caseloads increased by 90 percent. Capital defense costs rose 338 percent during the same time period.

jacksonAfter more than four years as Jackson County’s attorney, Jay Coward will soon yield his spot as the county’s legal face. But commissioners aren’t replacing him with another contract attorney. Rather, they’ve opted to create a new staff position.

Commissioners in Jackson County are moving forward with a plan to scrap their policy of contracting legal services with a private attorney in favor of hiring a full-time staff attorney. At a recent work session, they gave County Manager Chuck Wooten the go-ahead to advertise the position and include more than $100,000 in salary, benefits and associated expenses in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-16.

Jay Coward will keep his job as Jackson County attorney — for five more months, at least. 

When a new board of commissioners took over in December, they put out a call for applications to select a new attorney, pulling in a list of eight candidates, including Coward.

Jackson County got plenty of response back when its new board of commissioners put out the word that they were taking applications for the county attorney position. 

Jackson County commissioners will decide in the coming weeks whether to keep Jay Coward on board as their county attorney.

Commissioners will consider other candidates in January. Coward said he will put his name back in the hat and hopes to stay on board.

An attorney that forged judges’ signatures was caught thanks to the sharp eyes of a law enforcement officer, a fellow attorney and a court clerk who noticed red flags.

But for at least a year, fraudulent driving privileges provided to clients by Attorney John Lewis remained under the radar. The scam began unraveling last fall, leading to a state investigation and culminating with guilty pleas by Lewis in court this week.

The first sign of the fraud arose after one of the drivers sporting a fake document from Lewis was stopped by a law enforcement officer in Swain County. When asked for his license, the driver pulled out the limited driving privileges he’d gotten from Lewis.

“The officer found it was suspicious in nature just by looking at it,” said Grayson Edwards, a State Bureau of Investigation agent who investigated the case.

The biggest red flag was that Lewis had signed his own name on the line where a clerk of court is supposed to sign. A signature of Judge Richie Holt also appeared on the document. But the officer was skeptical that Judge Holt would have granted limited driving privileges to this particular driver. So the officer called Holt, who confirmed he’d never signed such a document for that person.

The confused driver called Lewis to find out what was going on. Lewis owned up to the fraud, but asked the driver to keep it under wraps. Lewis told the driver to call the clerk of court and say that he’d gotten the document in the mail.

“After (the driver) hung up the phone, he changed his mind and decided he didn’t want to lie for something that he had not done. So he called the Swain County Clerk’s office back and told them where he’d gotten it,” Edwards recounted in court.

In a second case, a Swain County driver bearing one of Lewis’ forged documents was stopped by a police officer, this time outside the region. The driver whipped out his limited driving privileges, but when the officer pulled the driver’s record, it didn’t show up in the computer and the driver got a ticket.

Confused why his limited driving privileges weren’t valid, the driver called Lewis. Lewis asked for the document back without saying why. The driver got suspicious and photocopied it first.

The driver took the photocopy to another attorney to figure out what was going on, all the while hoping he could get the limited driving privileges back. But the attorney instead referred it to the district attorney’s office.

In yet another bizarre incident, Lewis forged the name of Judge Monica Leslie in a custody case terminating parental rights. No sooner had he filed the fraudulent court order with the Jackson County Clerk of Court than he apparently thought better of it and asked for it back. The clerk wouldn’t give it back, since a signed order submitted as part of the court record can’t be removed from the file. An agitated Lewis came back twice over the course of the day trying to retrieve the document.

“At one point he even went around the partition in the clerk’s office with a sticky note that said the order was void and put it on the file,” said Reid Taylor, assistant district attorney. “The clerk had some serious issues with Mr. Lewis and the way he was conducting himself over that document and was raising all kind of red flags.”

Lewis grew up in Jackson County and came from a low-income family, according to Lewis’ attorney. He excelled in basketball, playing at Smoky Mountain High School then at Western Carolina University and finally Mars Hill. From Mars Hill, he went to law school at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island before returning to Jackson County to practice law. Lewis and his wife live in Glenville.

District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said Lewis’ actions are puzzling for a person who worked so hard to go to law school.

“To come back home where he grew up and throw it all away? For who? People who weren’t entitled to drive?” Bonfoey asked. “Enabling people who shouldn’t be on the road to drive is appalling to all of us. It is appalling to my office, and it is appalling to all of us as attorneys.”

Investigators did not determine what payment if any Lewis got from his clients in exchange for purportedly landing them limited driving privileges, Bonfoey said.

There may be more people out there who think they have a valid document from Lewis. If you are one of those people, contact the sheriff’s office in your county.

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