"Black lawyers claim Durham prosecutor plays favorites" - John Sullivan, News & Observer (December 24, 1999)
A Durham association of black lawyers says District Attorney Jim Hardin is hurting its members' business by playing favorites in the courthouse.
Members of the George H. White Bar Association told Hardin in a letter delivered late Wednesday that they are concerned about "the appearance of partiality and favoritism being shown to certain attorneys" by Hardin's office because of their relationship with the district attorney.
"The members of our association who practice in District Court are at a disadvantage if they are perceived as not being able to secure the same deal as lawyers who are friends of Mr. Hardin," said Public Defender Bob Brown, who drafted the letter as president of the association.
Brown said that if members aren't treated as well as other lawyers, their clients, many of whom are black, are immediately discriminated against.
Brown's letter said members of the association had expressed concern about traffic court cases and plea negotiations with Hardin and lawyers in the District Attorney's Office.
The letter cited two articles that appeared in the The News & Observer in October in which friends of Hardin said they were treated differently because of their friendship with him.
In October, lawyer Wesley Covington testified before the N.C. State Bar that Hardin gave him special, but not unlawful, deals based on their long relationship. Along with former prosecutor Ralph Strickland, Covington was suspended for two months for his role in a drunken-driving charge that was improperly reduced in a back hallway at the courthouse.
Lawyer Lena Wade, one of Covington's assistants, is also mentioned in the letter. She testified before the State Bar that Covington used his influence to get deals outside Hardin's guidelines.
The letter also says Hardin's boyhood friend Woody Vann got special access. Vann said in October that Hardin gave another lawyer in his firm a break on a speeding ticket as a "professional courtesy."
Brown said the association is aware of more examples of favoritism but cited only the cases that already had been made public in news reports.
"It's only fair for the DA to respond to these matters, since they are in the public domain for over two months and he has not done so yet," Brown said Thursday.
Brown said the statements by Hardin's friends have given rise "to a great deal of apprehension on the part of the association."