Shades of Gray: McCrory appointed judge, candidate contributions

According to North Carolina state campaign finance reports 17 candidate contributions have been attributed to Judge Beecher “Gus” Gray since 2008, totaling $12,046 received by 5 candidates. If the reports are correct some would seem to represent violations of the NC Judicial Code of Conduct. Canon 7 of the Code prohibits judges from personally making financial contributions or loans to almost all individuals seeking election to office.

Beecher Reynolds Gray was appointed by Governor Pat McCrory as a Special Superior Court Judge in January 2014, prior to which he had served as an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings since 1986. He was sworn in 01/09/2014 for a term ending 01/09/2019. Six of the 17 contributions have been recorded since taking office. The six campaign contributions provided $1,000 to Pat McCrory, $2,650 to Brent Jackson, and $1,000 to Phil Berger Sr. (These six contributions are specifically covered by the Judicial Code of Conduct)*.

Since 2008 Beecher Gray appears to have given 17 campaign contributions totaling $5,046 to Pat McCrory, for Governor, $3,000 to Phil Berger Sr., for State Senate, $2,900 to Brent Jackson, for State Senate, $1,000 to Fred Smith, for Governor, and $100 to Todd Batchelor, for State House.  An idiosyncrasy of the NC Judicial Code of Conduct is that complaints regarding violations of Canon 7 must be made within 90 days of the occurrence. Only the single most recent contribution of $1,000 to McCrory on 12/18/2015 would meet this requirement to trigger secret proceedings to consider the matter.

Date Contribution Committee
04/14/2008 $1,000 Fred Smith
09/30/2008 $1,000 Pat McCrory
03/03/2010 $100 Todd Batchelor
12/30/2011 $1,000 Pat McCrory
02/09/2012 $21 Pat McCrory
06/05/2012 $1,000 Pat McCrory
07/17/2012 $25 Pat McCrory
09/19/2012 $1,000 Pat McCrory
10/03/2012 $1,000 Phil Berger Sr
11/15/2013 $250 Brent Jackson
11/21/2013 $1,000 Phil Berger Sr
08/27/2014 $150 Brent Jackson
10/02/2014 $1,000 Phil Berger Sr
10/10/2014 $1,000 Brent Jackson
01/09/2015 $500 Brent Jackson
10/27/2015 $1,000 Brent Jackson
12/18/2015 $1,000 Pat McCrory

In 2006 Beecher Gray ran for Court of Appeals, though unsuccessful. During this period there was a lull in personal contributions recorded to other candidates. Until 2004 records indicate intermittent contributions to Democrats including Jim Hunt, Howard Lee, Aaron Plyler, Meg Scott Phipps, George Daniel, Tony Rand, Roy Cooper and Mike Easley.

One explanation for the attribution to a judge of prohibited candidate contributions is the use of checks from a joint checking account of a married judge with the names of both spouses printed on the check. A spouse’s contribution can accidentally be recorded as a contribution from the judge in the absence of other supporting information, which should include name, occupation, and employer. Records show that since 2008 Beecher Gray’s wife made six contributions in her own name compared to the 17 attributed to Beecher Gray himself during the same period.

In 1985, the year before Gray became an Administrative Law Judge, the NC Supreme Court censured District Court Judge Paul Wright for making campaign contributions to Jim Hunt and Rufus Edmisten.  The opinion In re Wright, 313 N.C. 495 (1985) is often cited in regarding the applicability of Canon 7 of the Judicial Code of Conduct.

“Contributions to the campaign committees of senatorial and gubernatorial candidates constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice where respondent had been appointed to office by one of the candidates and where both candidates, if elected, would be in a position to appoint or recommend the appointment of judges. Members of the public could easily conclude that the contributions were a reward for a past judicial appointment as well as an expression of hope for a future one.”

*Update 9:38pm : Note that the Judicial Standards Commission is not authorized to consider complaints against administrative law judges.  This post has been edited to reflect the distinction. The standard of conduct required for administrative law judges is decribed in GS 7A-754:

“The Chief Administrative Law Judge and the administrative law judges shall comply with the Model Code of Judicial Conduct for State Administrative Law Judges, as adopted by the National Conference of Administrative Law Judges, Judicial Division, American Bar Association, (revised August 1998), as amended from time to time”

A copy of the 1998 edition was not available at the time of posting.  An earlier edition has a Canon 5 addressing political activity, however GS 7A-754 supplants Canon 5 with GS 126-13, a statute that governs political activity by state employees which contains no prohibition on candidate contributions or off-duty political activity.

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