Evidence from an investigation by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office into the residency status of District Attorney Michael Parker is being subpoenaed for today’s hearing of a challenge to Parker’s candidacy for district attorney.
The challenge was filed in Anson County by Faye Gathings of Lilesville on Feb. 25, and alleges Parker is a resident of Moore County and therefore ineligible to prosecute cases for District 20A which includes Richmond, Anson and Stanly counties.
It is set to be heard today at 1 p.m. at the Cole Auditorium by a three-member panel made up of county board of elections officials from each of the three counties.
Board of Elections Chairwoman Hilda Pemberton will represent Richmond County on the panel, which she will also chair.
Parker responded to the challenge in a press release, saying he does own the family farm near Vass in Moore County, but his residence has been in the Richmond County Town of Marston since 2000.
Parker has prosecuted cases in the district since 1989, and has served as North Carolina Prosecutorial District 20A district attorney since 2004. He is seeking reelection, and would face fellow Democrat and Richmond County attorney Reece Saunders in a May primary.
Monday, Richmond County Sheriff Dale Furr confirmed he has been subpoenaed for the hearing, but declined to comment on any on-going investigation into Parker’s residency status.
Furr and Chief Deputy Phil Sweatt are among the individuals being called to testify at the hearing on behalf of Gathings, along with Richmond County Commission Chairman Kenneth Robinette, Marston residents Jeff Moss and Christine Tillman and Parker’s wife Carol. Robinette owns a home in Martson on Cognac Road.
In total, nine individuals are being asked to testify by Gathings.
Gathings is also asking for utility bills and tax notices for both Parker properties, records from the North Carolina State Personnel Office, billing information for insurance policies and Parker’s state and federal tax returns since 2005.
Monday, Parker declined to release the list of who he has asked to testify, but asserted he would defend his eligibility to hold the office of district attorney.
“I live here, and I have lived here,” Parker said.
In his previous release, Parker pointed out the convoluted relationship he has shared with Gathings since he made the decision not to pursue criminal charges against the woman who shot and killed Gathings’ son during an alleged breaking and entering incident in 2004.
Gathings said her goal is to make sure Parker “is voted out of office,” in a subsequent interview.
She had previously unsuccessfully sought a vote of no confidence against Parker.
By North Carolina General Statute, the burden of proof lies on the candidate to prove they are eligible to hold the office they seek in this type of challenge.
This means it will be Parker’s task to prove that he is indeed a resident of Marston, rather than a resident of Moore County, “by a preponderance of the evidence of the record as a whole ...”
North Carolina General Statute also allows for an appeal of any decision the panel enters by the challenger or the candidate, within two business days of the decision to the state Court of Appeals.
North Carolina Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said this type of challenge is not unprecedented.
“Every election cycle there are anywhere from two to six accusations or complaints filed, and normally about half of those reach the point of a hearing,” Bartlett said. “However, there are typically more challenges to voter registration than the candidacy itself.”
He noted North Carolina General Statute was changed to allow for this type of challenge less than a decade ago.
“It happens, and it happened before the law was put into place,” Bartlett said.
An appeal of Tuesday’s decision could mean uncertainty in preparing the primary ballot by county elections boards in the district.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.