Court halts criminal proceeding against N.C. Attorney General
Ruling comes one day after state grand jury approved first step towards indictment
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stopped a state criminal investigation into North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein on Tuesday.
In a two-to-one decision, the appeals court granted Stein’s request for an injunction pending appeal, meaning state prosecutors cannot move forward with the process of seeking an indictment against Stein.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, a Democrat, and her staff have been investigating Stein over a campaign ad he ran against his Republican opponent in the 2020 election. Stein’s opponent, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, filed a complaint over the ad accusing Stein of breaking a nearly century old law that makes it illegal to knowingly lie in campaign statements.
The ruling from the appeals court stopping the criminal proceedings comes one day after a Wake County grand jury signed off on the first of a two-part process to seek charges against Stein.
Freeman and her staff have proceeded with the investigation despite a recommendation from investigators with the N.C. State Board of Elections to not pursue an investigation on the grounds that the law may be unconstitutional.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the appeals court found that the criminal proceedings against Stein should be stopped while judges consider a request from Stein to declare the state law unconstitutional. The order from the appeals court indicated arguments in the case will be heard in December.
Freeman did not immediately issue a public statement reacting to Tuesday’s ruling. Stein’s campaign issued the following statement:
“This law is 90 years old, has never been used against any candidate, and undermines free speech in our state. We are pleased that the Court has ordered this stay against Lorrin Freeman and believes that we are “likely to succeed on the merits.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Stein made comments on the ongoing investigation during a stop in Gaston County.
“I’m all for truthful ads but it is very troubling when one DA, on behalf of a friend DA, can bring a case against a candidate,” Stein said.
“Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, at the bidding of her good friend, [Jim] O’Neill resurrected this case and conducted a new investigation.”
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