RALEIGH — A Superior Court judge found Friday that the self-imposed punishments a former district attorney suffered after illegally collecting $48,000 in state funds was enough to satisfy the courts.
Judge Paul Ridgeway gave former Rockingham County District Attorney Craig Blitzer a prayer for judgement continued — which means if the former prosecutor commits a crime or other wrongdoings the court can still pass judgment on him — and told him he could not practice law again until the N.C. State Bar decides whether he should face further consequences.
Ridgeway told the court that when deciding Blitzer's sentence he took into consideration that Blitzer voluntarily resigned as district attorney on March 10, 2017, agreed to a temporary suspension of his law license, paid back the $48,000 and admitted guilt.
"We impose punishments or judgment in this court for rehabilitation purposes, to punish folks, to protect the public and to deter others from these crimes," Ridgeway told Blitzer. "I think the consequences you have suffered, though they have been voluntarily done as a direct result of this, has fulfilled those ends that we do."
Blitzer, after consulting with his attorneys, declined to comment Friday.
"This has been a tremendous strain on him and his family," said Chris Clifton, one of Blitzer's attorneys, who said they have been friends and colleagues for more than 20 years. "And we appreciate Lorrin Freeman and the Wake County District Attorney’s Office for stepping in and seeing this matter to a conclusion."
Last July, Blitzer admitted that he schemed with former Person/Caswell County District Attorney Wallace Bradsher to hire Blitzer's wife, Cindy, and allow her to collect $48,000 in state salary while she actually attended full-time nursing classes at South University in High Point.
"This is a case where you have public officials who forgot that the office that they assumed belongs to the people who elected them and took advantage of that office," said Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. "It has been a sad and difficult set of circumstances for us to handle and we appreciate the court’s time and discretion in making a decision."
Blitzer pleaded guilty on July 17, 2017, to misdemeanor failure to discharge the duties of his office in connection to the criminal scheme that state agents spent more than a year investigating. Bradsher was expected to do the same but at the last minute separated from his attorney and announced he would represent himself and take his case to trial.
The trial lasted through the end of May and the majority of June forcing many judges, prosecutors and attorneys to be on standby through the summer to serve as potential witnesses.
Bradsher was convicted of three felonies and two misdemeanor crimes and is serving a four-month prison sentence.
"The state has seen this case, quite frankly, different than that of his co-defendant," Freeman said. "That is largely because of the way that it was handled from the time the state began the investigation into this matter, and at all times, from the state's position, Mr. Blitzer's has been truthful about his misjudgments and misdeeds."
Both Blitzer and his wife testified against Bradsher and detailed the scheme to jurors.
"I think its fair to say that the jury found your testimony truthful," Ridgeway told Blitzer.
Blitzer was expected to offer similar testimony at 1 p.m. Friday in a deposition to civil attorneys suing the state on behalf of one of the state's whistleblowers and Bradsher's former employee, Debra Halbrook, who alleges that she was fired for reporting her boss and Blitzer to state agents.
Blitzer's attorney, Michael Grace of Forsyth County, said that he believes Halbrook was "greatly aggrieved" by Bradsher's actions and said Blitzer would continue to cooperate with her attorneys.
Grace asked the judge to consider a prayer for judgment continued based on Blitzer's actions throughout the investigation but also because of his current career as a junior pilot for a regional carrier of American Airlines.
Grace said that having a conviction on Blitzer's record could affect his ability to pass through airport screening daily with the Transportation Security Administration.
"He is trying to work his way back to being an outstanding member of the community and hopefully one day a member of the Bar," Grace said.