WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County Judge Sandra Ray has hired a law firm to go after her political opponents for distributing campaign materials about her past controversies.
An attorney representing Ray says the campaign flyers in question do not have the proper campaign advertising disclosures. The attorney also questions a line in the flyer that says Ray ranked near the very bottom of North Carolina district court judges evaluated on their performance.
In her complaint to the North Carolina Board of Elections about the content of the flyer, Ray’s attorney seemingly accuses the people distributing the flyer of a class 2 misdemeanor for knowingly publishing or circulating “false” information about a candidate.
“The handouts/printed advertisements…reference Judge Ray, a candidate for District Court Judge, and claim that in 2016 she was ranked 134 among District Court Judges in the ‘Judicial Performance Review.’ There is not attribution or supporting information to that statement. That statement is false,” the complaint reads.
To bolster that claim, Ray’s attorney included a statement from the North Carolina State Bar that says, “Judicial Performance Evaluations have never included ranking numbers, rather they included percentages in categories.”
WECT has fact checked the flyer Ray is challenging, and the claims appear to be accurate. The flyer states, “In 2016, the most respected Ranking of District Court Judges running for office across North Carolina, A Judicial Performance Review, Ray ranked 134 out of 140 District Court Judges across the state. This is 6th from the bottom.”
WECT has confirmed that a report put out by the North Carolina Bar Association during the 2016 election cycle found Judge Ray among the least effective judges in the state up for reelection, based on survey results from lawyers. The report does not include judges who were not running for reelection that year. The report lists the raw scores of each candidate, and if you review the scores, Ray’s score of 3.26 comes in at 134 out of 140 judges evaluated.
According to the state bar report, the lawyers surveyed “were asked to assess the performance of judges about whom they had sufficient professional contact to evaluate their integrity and impartiality; legal ability; professionalism; communication; administrative skills; and overall performance.”
In the poll, Judge Ray scored a 3.26 out of 5 possible points. Only five of the judges evaluated in the report scored worse. The bar considered responses from well over 100 attorneys when calculating these scores. By comparison, the four other judges in the 5th judicial district where Ray works scored considerably higher. Judge J.H. Corpening scored a 4.59, Judge Russell Davis scored a 4.52, Judge Jeffrey Noecker scored a 4.41, and Judge Robin Robinson scored a 4.36.
There may be legitimate concerns in Ray’s other filed complaint about the campaign advertising disclosures on some of the flyers that have been distributed. Several versions of the flyer have been handed out at the polls, via email and taped to voters mailboxes, according to Judge Ray’s complaint.
State law requires that political advertisements include the statement “Paid for by _____.” It must also say whether the ad was authorized by a candidate.
Exhibit 1 of Ray’s complaint is a version of the flyer in question that includes no campaign advertising disclosure at all.
Exhibit 2 is a version that appears to have a proper disclosure. The bottom of the flyer reads “Paid for by Carol Cooper, not authorized by an candidate nor candidate committee.”
Exhibit 3 is yet another version of the flyer, which says “Paid for by Ms. Grant, Ms. Lichtner, Ms. Cooper, Ms. Justice or Ms. Adams and not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.”
WECT spoke to Lisa Wilkins, a Republican who helped research and put these flyers together because of her concerns over Judge Ray’s performance and behavior over the years. She says all of the flyers her volunteers have handed out have the required campaign advertising disclosure. She is aware of some other flyers without that disclosure being taped to people’s mailboxes around the county. Wilkins says she has no idea who is behind the mailbox campaign.
A Republican volunteer circulating flyers with the required disclosure filed an elections intimidation complaint against Judge Ray on February 21, saying she took his flyer away from a voter he’d given it to outside of a polling location, then threatened him with legal action for campaigning against her. The state is currently reviewing that complaint.
WECT has reached out to Judge Ray several times for comment on the Feb. 21 complaint against her.
She sent a text questioning whether the complaint had really been filed. When we sent her a picture of the filed complaint, she left us a message saying she could provide comment if we called her back, but we have been unable to reach her since then.
We reached out again for comment on her counter-complaint, but have not received a response so far.