Richardson pleads no contest in appeal

Published 1:14 pm Thursday, March 20, 2008

By Staff
Has court costs, fines remitted
Staff Writer
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson pleaded no contest Wednesday and a Superior Court judge agreed to overturn a previous conviction that Richardson illegally handed out campaign materials at a high school football game in October 2006.
A District Court judge had found Richardson guilty of the offense in February 2007.
Superior Court Judge Dewey J. Hooks granted Richardson a prayer for judgment continued on a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Hooks, from Columbus County, also remitted Richardson’s court costs. Richardson’s charge won’t appear on his record provided he doesn’t have another brush with the law.
District Court Judge Michael Paul convicted Richardson of the misdemeanor and sentenced him to 24 hours of community service in February 2007. Paul also sentenced Richardson to 30 days in jail, which was suspended, and ordered him to pay a $250 fine and court costs. Richardson immediately appealed the conviction to Superior Court.
Richardson pleaded “no contest” to the charge and waived his right to a jury trial, a decision he and his lawyer, Sandy Harding made between the time a jury was selected Wednesday morning and the time court resumed after lunch.
In summary of their case, Harding said the school board’s policy barring candidates from distributing campaign materials at sporting events had been “selectively enforced” against Richardson. The Beaufort County Board of Education had sent a letter to Richardson, then running for the N.C. House seat held by Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, explaining the policy and asking him not to campaign at school sporting events. Richardson was arrested Oct. 30, 2006 at a Washington High School football game. Earlier in the evening he was asked to leave a Southside High School game because of his attempts to campaign there.
Michael M. Muskus, an assistant district attorney from state District 8, said Richardson refused to leave the Southside game when asked to do so by school principal Todd Blumenreich. When Richardson refused to leave, Blumenriech sought a warrant from the county magistrate’s office to have him removed. By the time Blumenreich returned, Richardson had left for the WHS game where he was intercepted by sheriff’s deputies and arrested for disorderly conduct.
Muskus was brought in for Richardson’s case so any potential conflict of interest could be avoided. Local District Attorney Seth Edwards, who usually handles cases in Beaufort County, is married to Kim Edwards, who is an attorney for the Beaufort County Board of Education. Richardson said having an outside district attorney, an outside judge and a jury trial was necessary for a fair trial. The jury wasn’t needed when Richardson pleaded no contest.
Before ruling, Hooks asked Richardson if he was aware that the school board’s policy had changed and that it “applies to all candidates.” Richardson answered that he did.
Harding said Hooks’ statement was a message to the school board that it had “been put on notice.”
Following the trial, Richardson said he felt “vindicated.”
Then-school board Chairman Bryant Hardison denied the policy had been unfairly enforced against Richardson. The policy was put in place solely for “the protection of the students,” he said after the trial.