RALEIGH -- Representative Thomas Wright's attorneys believe race is behind a hearing that could lead to his removal from office.
Criminal charges for fraud and obstruction of justice are the basis for the legislative ethics hearing that started Monday. Wrights attorneys were blunt and bold in their accusation of racial bias. They point to a 2007 ethics complaint against a white lawmaker that was dismissed without a hearing. With Wright facing this public hearing, they believe he's being treated differently.
"I find it ironic that Rep. Wright represents New Hanover County, Wrightsville, which is the very place of the 1898 race riot took place which began the Jim Crow era and this is a Jim Crow proceeding if he gets treated differently," Wright attorney Doug Harris said.
This hearing stems from felony fraud and obstruction of justice charges Wright faces in criminal court. Investigators believe he misused more than $350,000 in campaign donations, loans, and charitable donations.
"That between the years between 2000-2006, Representative Thomas wright engaged in a pattern of improper, unethical, and criminal conduct while a legislator in this General Assembly," William Hart from the NC Attorney General's office said.
Wright maintains it was simply sloppy bookkeeping. Last week a judge granted a delay in his criminal case and his attorneys consistently pushed for the same during Monday's ethics hearing.
"There has not been adequate time for myself, or Mr. Joyner, for Tom Wright to go over these matters to form an adequate and as the chairman has noted we don't in fact have a defense is noted," Harris added.
His motions were denied but the committee did agree to accept a written argument on the racial bias. In between the arguments several witnesses did take the stand. Testimony will continue Tuesday morning.
At the end of this hearing, the committee can either take no further action or recommend to the full state House to remove him from office. A lawmaker has not been removed from office since 1880.
Wright's criminal trial is now scheduled for March 31st. He has filed for re-election and faces two opponents in the Democratic primary.