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Z-no-digital
Judges: New North Carolina Congress map will be used in 2020

RALEIGH — North Carolina judges ordered a new U.S. House district map that Republican state legislators drew last month be used in the 2020 elections, deciding on Monday there wasn’t time to scrutinize the boundaries further for any left-over extreme partisan bias.

The three-judge panel agreed it was too late in the election cycle to receive evidence and testimony that would be necessary to consider detailed redistricting arguments from the lawmakers and from Democratic and independent voters who challenged the latest congressional maps.

The North Carolina primary for hundreds of state and local elected positions is March 3, and candidate filing opened Monday. The judges had suspended congressional filings for all 13 seats while they reviewed the case, but the judges’ unanimous order said the State Board of Elections should now start receiving filings from U.S. House hopefuls based on the new district seats.

“There’s simply not sufficient time to fully develop the factual record necessary to decide the constitutional challenges to the new congressional districts without significantly delaying the primary elections,” Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said from the bench. “It is time for the citizens to vote.”

While 10 of the 13 current U.S. House members are Republicans in a state considered a presidential battleground, the new map would appear to give Democrats a good chance of picking up two more seats in 2020. Additional Democratic victories could help the party retain control of the U.S. House next year.

In late October, the same judges blocked the use of the 13 district boundaries approved in 2016 because they were likely unlawful partisan gerrymanders. While not ordering a new map, the judges had suggested a delayed primary could be avoided if lawmakers redrew the map quickly.

By Nov. 15, the General Assembly had approved a replacement with district lines that appear to threaten the re-elections of GOP Reps. George Holding of Raleigh and Mark Walker of Greensboro.

But the voters who sued over the 2016 map said the new boundaries were still unlawful partisan gerrymanders that violated the state constitution. They pointed to data showing 10 of the districts remained extreme partisan outliers compared to “nonpartisan” maps created by a redistricting expert, packing Democrats into five districts so that the others are noncompetitive. They wanted the judges to hire a third-party expert to draw them again.

Lawyers for Republican legislators said the case was moot because they created a new map that complied with the state court’s suggestions to perform the drawing in public and without the use of partisan data.

“Although one can certainly argue that the process was flawed or that the result is far from ideal, the net result is that the previous grievously flawed 2016 congressional map has been replaced,” Ridgeway said. Lawyers for both sides made oral arguments Monday before Ridgeway read the panel’s decision.

The plaintiffs — whose lawsuit has been bankrolled by a national Democratic group — did not immediately respond to an email seeking a response to the decision. They could still ask state appeals courts to intervene. Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said in a release that North Carolina Republicans yet again ran “out the clock on fair maps” and forced the state “to go another election using undemocratic district lines.”

Republican lawmakers were pleased with the ruling, which they said stopped a concerted effort by the Democratic Party to get judges to redraw boundaries that favored the party. Several redistricting lawsuits have been filed this decade against GOP-drawn lines.

“It’s time now to stop the endless litigation and out-of-state lawyering around North Carolina’s redistricting process and let the people determine their congressional representatives,” state GOP Reps. David Lewis and Destin Hall said in a news release.

Holding hasn’t said publicly whether he’ll seek re-election in the new 2nd District. With candidate filing continuing until Dec. 20, Walker said: “I feel no pressure to rush a decision.”

The GOP-controlled General Assembly was ordered in September to redraw dozens of state legislative districts by these same judges, who declared those boundaries were illegal partisan gerrymanders. Both congressional and legislative districts will be redrawn in 2021, based on 2020 census figures.

Later Monday, a federal judge rejected a bid by a congressional candidate and two other voters to prevent the new map from being used next year. The three had sought an injunction, saying a new map so close to the 2020 electoral season would create confusion and violate the rights of voters and candidates.


Local_news
Roy Carroll promises to keep residents informed of plans for Friendly-Hobbs property where previous proposals had neighbors up in arms

GREENSBORO — Local developer Roy Carroll promised Monday to keep residents in the loop as he considers what to build at the high-profile intersection of Hobbs Road and Friendly Avenue.

The developer earlier this year bought 6.6 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection from an Atlanta company that tried and failed to hit the sweet spot for the site.

The corner has for years drawn fervent attention from local residents worried that growth would bring too much traffic and unsightly development where several homes once stood.

On Monday night, Carroll spoke to more than 60 residents who packed a meeting room at First Lutheran Church’s community center and told them he doesn’t have any firm plans for the site yet, but he doesn’t expect to build retail on the scale that Halpern Enterprises had once proposed.

“My goal is, it’s not going to be geared toward a big retailer,” Carroll told the group.

Residents had dozens of questions and suggestions ranging from turning the land into a park to making it all residential.

Carroll said the property isn’t large enough to yield much of a profit from only residential.

But he is adamant that the retail he may build there would be what he calls “accessory retail” that doesn’t include a big grocery store or other kind of major retail as many residents have feared since before Halpern bought the property four years ago.

And he promised the group that, as his company studies options, he would hold more meetings to keep them informed as the plans come together.

One resident said that neighbors “sighed a breath of relief because you do quality work,” to the applause of many in the audience.

Still, others were worried about traffic and the impact of a major development on that corner.

One man said, “we have several hundred apartments down Hobbs that are now being leased and I don’t know how they’re going to handle the traffic.”

Carroll told the group he would support “traffic calming” measures that would slow down drivers and make his project more of a place where people could park their cars and walk to explore the new development.

He opened the meeting by telling residents that his company doesn’t have a timetable for when it might be ready to develop the land and that means he is free to collect as much neighborhood input as possible.

Carroll said that he doesn’t expect to satisfy everybody, but that he wants to build a “legacy project” that has the Carroll name on it and is something he’ll be proud of.

“My goal is, we’d like to create an interesting enough environment that you’d want to leave your cars at home,” he said. “We’re not going to build a strip center.”

It was a stark contrast to a similar meeting Halpern held in the same room nearly five years ago when it was first considering a project with a major grocery store surrounded by shops.

During that January 2015 meeting, angry residents shouted and frequently interrupted a Halpern executive who was presenting concept drawings for the site.

Under pressure, Halpern made extensive changes to its original proposal, emerging with a development plan that included 48,000 square feet of retail space and 22 housing units.

The site did not include plans for a grocery store.

And even after Halpern successfully rezoned the property, the site didn’t make financial sense for the developer, which offered the property to Carroll earlier this year.

In January, the Carroll At Hobbs LLC partnership bought the land for $5 million.

Before Halpern bought the property, other developers had considered developing it and Trader Joe’s was rumored to be considering the site for a grocery store. But neighborhood reaction to the suggestion was so negative that the company told some members of the community that it would not consider coming to Greensboro.

Trader Joe’s never made a move to build a store there and opened a new store earlier this year on Battleground Avenue.


Z-no-digital
As visitors return to Ocracoke, they'll see changes to the island — and its residents

OCRACOKE — Some of the 75 or so Ocracokers who made it to church the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving carried worries as heavy as boat anchors.

Hurricane Dorian, which swamped Ocracoke on Sept. 6 with up to 7 feet of water, had upended island life. The water displaced nearly half the permanent population, sending residents scrambling for places to live. And it damaged more than three-fourths of the businesses, leaving owners and workers with no reliable source of income once temporary unemployment benefits run out.

And now, after nearly three months of crying, cleaning and calculating how they might recover, they were up against a deadline, with the island slated to reopen to tourists — Ocracoke’s financial lifeline — on Dec. 2.

Will people come? What if they don’t? And even more frightening to some: What if they do?

Pastor Susie Fitch-Slater knew their worries; she had just been hired to lead Ocracoke United Methodist Church in July before the storm hit in September, flooding the sanctuary, including the church organs.

Like many of her congregants, Fitch-Slater has been preoccupied with the logistics of rebuilding, the challenges of which are multiplied in a place where every fresh two-by-four, every sheet of plywood, every roofing nail has to be delivered by boat.

At least 410 homes and other structures were damaged by the rushing waters of the Pamlico Sound that Hurricane Dorian swept across the island on its way up the coast. Tom Pahl, who represents the island on the Hyde County Board of Commissioners, said dozens of property owners are expected to demolish their homes and rebuild rather than try to repair. Many of those that will come down are the older homes on the island, he said, some of which date to the 1800s.

The county has no plans to condemn houses, Pahl said.

Pahl, a general contractor and native New Englander who has lived on the island for 12 years, is as frustrated as any of his neighbors that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it will not provide financial aid to individual property owners on Ocracoke. FEMA will help only through its public assistance program that pays for such things as infrastructure repair and debris removal.

A few people have left, though it’s unclear exactly how many. Much of the most affordable housing on the island was damaged by the storm, and those who could not find alternative places to live relocated to the mainland.

“Some of my employees are gone,” said Jason Wells, a restaurateur. “They say they’ll come back, and I hope they do. But when? And where are they going to live?”

Residents are considering their rebuilding options with an eye on the long term. While Dorian has been called the worst storm to hit Ocracoke since at least the Hurricane of 1944, it has been only one of many. Since the 1990s, storms have been more frequent, more powerful and more devastating, causing property owners to consider whether they can afford to elevate their houses to get them above predicted floodwaters.

Pahl, the county commissioner and builder, is also a historic preservation specialist. When he and his wife bought their century-old house on the island and renovated it more than a decade ago, he raised the structure several feet to try to keep it dry during storm surges.


Z-no-digital
Guilford County Public Defender Fred Lind's retirement marks 'end of an era'

GREENSBORO — When Fred Lind announced his retirement as Guilford County’s public defender, local attorneys knew it was “the end of an era.”

“Fred is such an institution here,” said John Bryson, president of the 24H Judicial District Bar.

Before his retirement became official on Sunday, the 72-year-old Lind spent more than 45 years in public service, all of it at the Guilford County Public Defender’s Office. He served for decades as the No. 2 person in the office, and succeeded longtime Public Defender Wally Harrelson in 2011 after Harrelson’s death.

Lind was only the second person to hold the top post leading the county’s public defenders, state-paid attorneys who defend people who cannot afford representation. He is succeeded by John Nieman, an assistant public defender since 2004 who was nominated by the local bars to take over for Lind.

If you don’t hang around the courthouse much, Lind’s name might be familiar in the context of a different court.

That 1968 basketball game where the second-string Duke player came off the bench, scored 16 points and propelled the Blue Devils to an 87-86 win over Carolina. That was Lind.

It was a magical moment for the team, but Lind downplays his role.

“He’s pretty modest,” said Joe Craig, senior resident Superior Court judge. “He has a knack for putting you at ease and, secondly, by leading by an example in terms of ethics and integrity and straightforwardness.”

So how did Lind get from the basketball court to the courtroom?

After graduating, he enrolled in DePaul Law School in Chicago.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Lind said. “Occasionally, I would go to the federal court within a block or two from DePaul and watch criminal cases.”

During his last year in law school he interned at a public defender’s office. He liked the work and, after moving back to North Carolina, looked for an opening in the state’s nascent public defender system.

There were three offices at the time: one in Guilford, Fayetteville and Asheville.

Guilford didn’t have any openings, so Lind studied for the bar exam while working at a basketball camp run by Tar Heels Coach Dean Smith in Chapel Hill. One day, one of the coaches told Lind his mother had called to say Guilford County’s public defender had a job for him.

Lind worked closely with Harrelson for so long, you can’t talk about one man without the other being brought up.

Harrelson became North Carolina’s first public defender when he opened Guilford’s office in 1970.

In August 1974, Lind joined Harrelson in Guilford County, commuting from his Greensboro home to work in the High Point office.

Former District Attorney Jim Kimel, who also had to make the drive from Greensboro to High Point as an assistant district attorney, often carpooled with Lind.

Even then, Kimel said, Lind’s strong ethics were evident.

“I can remember, Fred would worry so much about, not appearance, but he would not want to get out of the car with us,” Kimel said. “We would drop him off in front and I would park in the back.”

The two often found themselves facing off in court.

“He was a good person to try cases against because he always knew what he was doing,” Kimel said.

He said Lind also did what his client wanted.

“He didn’t try to talk them into pleading guilty or anything else,” Kimel said. “When it came down to it he would say, ‘It’s his case, this is what he wants to do.’

“That’s refreshing.”

***

The 6-foot-8 Lind has been a presence at the courthouse. He liked to pop in to courtrooms and watch court cases unfold.

Former Chief Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann said Lind also would make the rounds every day to greet the prosecutors in their offices.

He has become the unofficial courthouse photographer, attending every bar and courthouse event. Mostly, he snaps pictures to document events for himself. But he shares his work.

Neumann described Lind and the other public defenders “as much of the home team as the prosecutors.”

“He, like everybody else in the PD’s office here, dispels the courthouse talk that you would be much better off with a private lawyer than a public defender,” Neumann said. “Nothing could be further from the truth in our courthouse.”

lll

Lind is known for being tireless and fearless. Not much bothers him.

Take that time when a judge criticized him for being late to a hearing. As the story goes, Lind walked over to a clock in the courtroom and turned the hands back so it read that he was on time. He then proceeded with his case.

When colleagues aren’t laughing at the folklore surrounding Lind, they’re envying his work ethic.

“It was my goal — and still is my goal — to try and equal or surpass his number of jury trials,” said Wayne Baucino, an assistant public defender.

Baucino is 75 jury trials short of Lind’s record 325, although Lind stepped back from trying cases once he become the county’s public defender.

Lind says out of all those cases, no one particular trial stands out, but he told Baucino he’s probably best known for getting not guilty verdicts in six separate cases where the defendant had confessed.

Colleagues also envy that memory of Lind’s.

Attorneys often use online research tool Westlaw to look up court cases. In Guilford County, they just ask Lind, whose seemingly limitless case recall is jokingly referred to as “Fredlaw.”

“He had the entire law library in his brain,” said Bryson, who learned the hard way to just ask Lind.

For one case in 1986, when lawyers still had to go to libraries to look up case law, Bryson spent hours looking through digests to find case law that would help one of his clients. When he finally found it, he returned to the public defender’s office where Lind asked what he’d been doing.

Bryson told him about the trouble he was having on his case.

Lind rattled off the exact Court of Appeals case Bryson needed and where he could find it. It was the same one that took Bryson hours to find.

“I felt like I could just shoot myself,” Bryson said. “It just amazed me how smart this guy was and how much information was in his head.”

Former District Attorney Doug Henderson said Lind’s knowledge was helpful to everyone in the courthouse.

“He would read every bloody opinion that came out of the N.C. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court,” he said. “He would share more case law and helpful hints to everyone who has tried a case in criminal court in the past 40 years.”

Henderson said Lind would slip notes to attorneys with helpful information and tips.

“More often than not,” Henderson said, “he saved the day for you.”