Charlotte lawyer charged with contempt of court for rape shield violation

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Chiege Okwara is a familiar face around the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. She's usually defending clients charged with a crime, but now she must defend herself against a contempt of court charge.

Okwara is a veteran attorney with degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, New York University, and Harvard.

Her education helps explain why Judge Robert C. Ervin seemed surprised to be hearing the case in the first place.

"I expect lawyers to know the rules and comply," said Ervin during Okwara's hearing last week. "They don't get a free violation," he said.

The case deals with Okwara's client, Latron Hoover.

Hoover is serving up to 17 years in prison after being convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping. In the same case, Hoover was accused of raping a woman, but those charges were dropped after a hung jury. Jurors said they could not agree on the evidence presented.

Court documents show Okwara got permission from Judge Ervin during a special hearing to question the alleged victim about a past sexual relationship with Hoover.

However, Okwara did not have permission to bring up another rape, where the woman says she was attacked at the age of 15.

The rape involving Hoover allegedly happened when the woman was 16.

Judge Ervin said he was concerned Okwara failed to follow procedure.

Her defense attorney, Lucky Osho, has tried repeatedly to get the contempt charge dismissed.

"In the heat of a trial, things happen," said Osho. He said the questioning was an oversight, not an intentional mistake; and that Okwara was simply trying to challenge the woman who blamed all her mental distress Hoover, and not the other man.

Yet there was no way to undo what the jury heard. Prosecutors could argue the damage was done.

The woman says it took her years to come forward. Advocates for sexual abuse victims say the court process is often one of their biggest fears.

Okwara could face a fine or possibly 30 days in prison, if convicted.

Judge Ervin told the court he would take the case under advisement and issue a decision at a later date.

Neither Okwara, nor her attorney responded with additional comment beyond court records for this article.

Copyright WBTV 2011. All Rights Reserved.

That violates North Carolina's Rape Shield Law which prohibits the introduction of any evidence about "sexual behavior of the complainant" other than the sexual acts at issue in the case.