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5 Things to Know: GOP Targets NC Justice Anita Earls

...and four more stories from Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2023

N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls' official portrait
N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls.

GOP Targets NC Justice Anita Earls

NC Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the Judicial Standards Commission (JSC) has violated her First Amendment rights by investigating and potentially punishing her for public comments she made about the lack of diversity in the state judiciary.

Earls, the last remaining Black state Supreme Court justice after her colleague Michael Morgan officially steps down on Sept. 4, has stated that public confidence in the courts is threatened when the judiciary doesn’t reflect the population it serves. Now North Carolina conservatives are trying to silence her for that opinion.

Exhibits included in the 29-page complaint include a confidential letter sent to Anita Earls on March 20 notifying her that the JSC was opening an investigation into an allegation that she disclosed confidential information about something that was still being deliberated by the state Supreme Court. The complaint was dismissed after Earls’ attorney proved that no leak actually occurred.

On Aug. 15, the JSC once again informed Earls she would be investigated and potentially punished for discussing with a journalist the NC Supreme Court’s lack of judicial clerks from racial minority groups and the role implicit bias plays in interrupting female advocates during oral arguments. She also commented on the state courts’ discontinuance of racial equity and implicit bias training.

Anita Earls’ lawsuit states that the Aug. 15 notice “bespeaks a callous disregard for the principles of the First Amendment,” as reported by NC Newsline, indicating the the commission thinks the best way to promote public confidence in the impartiality of the courts “is best accomplished by threatening judges who speak out about what they view as imperfections or defects in the judicial system and who do so in a measured and nuanced manner. Nothing could be more inimical to the First Amendment.”

CMPD Announces Additional Sex Crime Charges for Former County Employee

CMPD on Friday announced more charges for a former employee of Mecklenburg County who was arrested in July for assaulting a woman in her east Charlotte home while impersonating a doctor. The department’s Sexual Assault Unit signed six additional arrest warrants against 41-year-old Daniel Pitti-Casazola for six additional felony counts of sexual contact under pretext of medical treatment, they announced Friday.

Pitti-Casazola was arrested in Fayetteville on Thursday and as of Friday was in custody at the Cumberland County Detention Center under a $150,000 bond.

A mugshot of a scared coward and sexual predator
Daniel Pitti-Casazola now faces seven felony counts of sexual contact under pretext of medical treatment, and police believe there may be more victims out there. (Courtesy of CMPD)

CMPD announced Pitti-Casazola’s original arrest on July 18 after one of his victims came forward. The woman called police on July 11 to tell them she had received an illegitimate medical exam at her residence from a suspect impersonating a medical professional. Detectives conducted an investigation and determined that the suspect was not a medical professional and did not have reason to examine the victim.

The six additional victims were identified following that July 18 announcement. According to Friday’s release, each of the newly identified victims had similar allegations that Pitti-Casazola sought them out under the guise of providing medical care through the Mecklenburg County Health Department. The known assaults occurred between February 2023 and July 2023 in locations all throughout the city.

CMPD detectives believe there are more potential victims and are asking that anyone with information call 704-336-8279 and speak directly to a Sexual Assault Unit detective. The department emphasized in Friday’s release that the department will not inquire into the immigration status of any survivors, as it appears Pitti-Casazola was targeting members of the Hispanic community.

Iconic Reporter Steve Crump Dies at 65

Longtime WBTV reporter Steve Crump passed away early Thursday morning following a long battle with cancer that he fought strongly and proudly. He was 65 years old, having been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2018.

Crump often told the story of how, shortly after his diagnosis, a doctor suggested he seek hospice care. He refused, and in July marked a five-year milestone since his diagnosis.

“Hard to believe that it’s been five years and in the words of an Elton John song … ‘I’m Still Standing,'” he wrote then.

Steve Crump smiling in a suit and tie, official portrait
Steve Crump.

Crump spent nearly 40 years as a reporter at WBTV, having joined the station in 1984 and covered countless stories big and small. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in communications in 1980. He bounced around between various reporting and anchoring jobs before landing at WBTV in 1984, shortly after losing his mother to breast cancer.

In his decades-long career at WBTV, Crump produced more than 30 documentaries for WTVI with subjects as varied as Black jockeys’ role in the growth of thoroughbred horse racing, the life and times of Muhammad Ali, desegregation of Charlotte’s Harding High School in 1957 and the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre in which three black students were killed in a clash with law enforcement at a bowling alley, as recalled in this obituary by Charlotte Post editor-in-chief Herbert White.

County Warns Residents About New Scam

Having warned residents about a jury duty phone scam just last week, Mecklenburg County on Wednesday sent out another press release to warn of a mail scam in which folks have been using the recent property tax revaluation to try to bilk unsuspecting property owners out of money.

According to the release, the letters include a demand for money on what appears to be official letterhead from this year’s property revaluation notice. In March 2023, the Mecklenburg County Assessor’s Office mailed revaluation notices to more than 400,000 property owners, to inform them of their property’s new assessed value and their opportunities to appeal.

But the office recently learned of a letter printed on what appears to be Assessor’s Office letterhead and delivered to Mecklenburg County property owners. The sham letter replaces official information with an apparent demand for a “clearance fee” due to a death and the property being transferred. The letter also includes a deadline for the property owner to vacate their property.

Neither the Mecklenburg County Assessor’s Office nor any other official agency would mail such a letter to a property owner, the release emphasized. Any Mecklenburg County property owner who receives a scam or questionable letter — or has questions about correspondence or the status of their property value — is encouraged to contact the Assessor’s Office at 980-314-4226.

Classes Canceled at UNC Chapel Hill as Students Cope

Classes were cancelled through the end of the week at UNC Chapel Hill following the murder of Professor Zijie Yan in a classroom on campus Monday.

Police arrested Tailei Qi, a grad student at the university, shortly after the shooting, as students remained on lockdown throughout the campus. Qi was charged with first-degree murder and having a gun on education property. He appeared in court Tuesday but did not enter a plea. He was ordered held without bond.

The district attorney has reportedly decided not to pursue the death penalty.

UNC Chapel Hill’s student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel published a stirring cover that consisted of a string of text messages sent by terrified students and staff during the lockdown. The cover gained national recognition, including a photo posted by President Biden in a tweet that read, “This was the front page of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Daily Tar Heel. No student, no parent, and no American should have to send texts like these to their loved ones as they hide from a shooter.”

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