Saturday, May 24, 2008

Judge Rob Lewis Threatens Bertie School Board

As abusive as our court system can get, few Judges have equaled the standard set by District Judge Rob Lewis in abusing the power of the court to subpoena. Judge Lewis subpoenaed officials from another branch of government, the Bertie County School System and threatened them if they did not act as he wishes.

This abuse was triggered by a situation where some local gang members who attended a school dance here in Bertie County, continued an altercation that had originally started away from the school in downtown Windsor. At the end of the altercation, one gang member fired a pistol to try and intimidate the other gang as he left the school in his car. The local Sheriff's officials at the school felt they had to make an issue because of the discharge of the pistol. First they called the Windsor Police and had the car with the kid who had fired the gun stopped as it fled towards Windsor. Since most of the other kids involved had already left, they obtained arrest warrants and charged the kids with various crimes, some for fighting, and some for failure to disperse.

The school system expelled the kid who fired the pistol.

Judge Lewis decided with some kind of bizarre logic that the incident was the fault of the school system. How he came to the conclusion that the school board and school officials were at fault is still not clear since the Judge refused to respond to my request for clarification. However he made it clear he held them accountable.

The following people were subpoenaed from the school system, Board of Education Chairman Rickey Freeman, Board Member Emma Johnson, Board Member Gloria Lee, Board Member Melinda Eure, Board Member Alton Parker, School Superintendent Chip Zullinger, Assistant Superintendent Thomas Ruffin, Principal Rick Eley, Principal Sharon Bond and Ernestine Byrd, who was formerly in charge of the temporarily suspended teen court. The Judge also issued subpoenas for the two deputy sheriff officers involved, who though assigned to the school, report to Sheriff Greg Atkins, not the school system. All were ordered to appear in court Thursday morning at 9:00 AM with last minute subpoenas that drug all away from their jobs and school duties.

After almost 2 hours of waiting while the Judge conducted regular court, the Judge ordered the school officials to go to a separate courtroom, where he then verbally berated them. As I tried to enter the smaller courtroom I was asked who I was and why I was trying to enter. I asked the court officer if the press was allowed. The officer did not think that I could attend. I asked the officer to please verify with the Judge whether I could enter and one officer went up to do so while another kept me standing in the doorway.

It is interesting that 3 attorneys I talked with said the same thing. The court officer who initially tried to keep me out was playing with fire. When the officer went up and spoke to the judge he appeared to nod his head that I could enter, and the officer detaining me in the door stepped aside reluctantly after the other motioned for me to enter. Excluding me would have been illegal because one of the few things that a judge cannot do is hold a private hearing that is not statutorily permitted and this meeting would never have been covered by the statute.

As I was entering the Judge ripped into the people present, but because of the delay at the door I missed the first few sentences. The following are what I was able to write down when I got to a seat. For the record, these are the quotes of what Judge Rob Lewis said to humiliate the Bertie County School personnel.

"Schools must have discipline. You have to have a different policy. I order you to adopt a difrerent policy. If you choose to dump everything on this court, I will subpoena you people every time a student is arrested. You are wasting court time. You need to step up and do something so these kids are not subject to criminal records. I will continue to subpoena you for every case until you convince me you have a policy."

It was not clear exactly what policy the Judge was referring to since only the two officers were involved in the arrests. It does not matter. No Judge has the right to dictate education policy to our elected officials. He most assuredly has no right to subpoena them to try and dictate through threat what those policies should be.

One of the attorneys that I spoke with (all of them only willing to speak off the record for fear of the Judge) said, "Lewis' action was an abuse of judicial process and he should be reported to the judicial standards commission." Another said, "Lewis thinks because he was recently re-elected to his office for 4 years that no one can touch him because anything he does now will be forgotten by the time he comes up again."

It sure seems to me this is one more Judge who prefers "the rule of judges" to "the rule of law".


At 12:04 AM , Blogger Tammy Lee said...

Judge Lewis may not have conducted himself as professionally as he should have but I do think he may be trying to do good. The Board of Education is taking valueable court dockett space on matters where kids are being kids. The Board is too busy spendind money they shouldn't and then trying to hide the fact. Educators are getting higher raises than any other state employee and look at what we are getting for our money. Most educators would not dream of serving their state by putting out the fire in Hyde county. Working hours and hours and many days without a day off in the heat. I was recently in Kinston at the training facility for NC Forestry Service and observed the men went they arrived back from fighting the fire. I admire those men for the work that they do. Many Educators would not survive working at Bertie Correctional. The way they talk to the students and parents would not be acceptable to the inmates. Many could not or would not stand for hours or eat while standing. The staff that work in prisons put their lives at risk everyday they walk into work. State employees should be treated equally. Just think if the politicians handed out pay raises according to the quality of work of each state employee. MOST Educators in Bertie County would be paying to work. My husband and I sent our children to private school after they had been in a Bertie school and I had worked for Bertie Board of Education. I do not regret one penny we had to pay to the private school but I will say it is a shame we had to pay it.

At 6:53 AM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

You think that the Education System is supposed to discipline our students even after the Courts have stripped them of the power to do anything? By making it all about rights the Judges have assured there is no classroom discipline. Judges have ruled that a women teacher cut by one of her students and put into the hospital, HAD TO TEACH THAT SAME STUDENT after she got out. It was the students RIGHT to return to the same class no matter what he had done. She quit teaching rather than return to a classroom where her attacker had more rights than she. For you, or this Judge, to argue that lack of discipline is the school system's fault is mindless idiocy. For this Judge to think that he can blame the school when it is the fault of the court's is simply bizarre. You may not like the Bertie School System. I am not happy with the poor results either and there are things that should be done. However you have to have a more rational assessment of blame. Most of your comments are about things that have no relation to the school problem. This Judge, abusing his power, will not help.


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