Yesterday the N.C. Supreme Court censured former District Court Judge Randy Pool for violations of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and “for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.” A censure is a formal statement of severe disapproval or public condemnation and resulted from Pool’s repeated acts 0f sexual misconduct. Pool destroyed evidence in an attempt to conceal his actions. The State Supreme Court document also cites Pool’s diagnosis of early stage dementia, which sometimes leads to “a lack of control of sexual impulses” as a factor. Frontotemporal Dementia is also recognized as a progressive and terminal illness with a life expectancy of
6–8 years after symptoms manifest.
In August 2019, the Commission first filed a statement of charges against Pool. Pool unexpectedly retired on Nov. 8, 2019 without giving any reasons. In March 2020, new allegations were filed against Pool.
The North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission recommended this issue to be brought before the state Supreme Court based on the following violations:
- Engaging in sexual misconduct while serving as and exploiting his position as chief judge of his judicial district through a pattern of predatory sexual advances towards numerous women in his community, many of whom were involved in matters pending in the district where respondent served as chief judge
- Demonstrating a pattern of failing to diligently discharge his judicial duties for the period from at least November 2016 until his retirement in November 2019
- Misusing the prestige of his judicial office to solicit assistance from local lw enforcement relating to an attempted extortion
- Making material misrepresentations to law enforcement agents during the investigation of an attempt to extort money from him
- Making material misrepresentations to the Commission during an investigation
- Sending inappropriate electronic communications and exchange of nude photographs resulted in an extortion attempt by one woman, which led to an investigation by law enforcement agencies.
Jennifer Tierce, one of Pool’s victims, was charged with one count of felony extortion in the fall of 2019. Tierce allegedly threatened to send copies of sexually explicit texts and photographs from conversations between Pool and herself if Pool did not pay her $5,000. District Attorney Ted Bell brought the charges against Tierce. That case is ongoing.
Pool’s inappropriate use of social media
“Although some messages have been deleted, a review of Respondent’s existing Facebook messages during the period from November 2018 to May 2019 shows that Respondent, who is married, knowingly and willfully initiated and engaged in conversations with at least 35 different women that ranged from inappropriate and flirtatious to sexually explicit,” reads the censure order. “In some cases, Respondent and the female also had telephone conversations, exchanged texts and had personal meetings (including in some cases sexual encounters). Respondent knowingly and willfully engaged in FB conversations of a sexual nature with 12 women during the period from at least November 2018 through July 2019…”
The order also states that he “also made either inappropriate or flirtatious comments through FB messages to women who were required to appear or work in Respondent’s court in their professional capacities.”
It goes on to state that from November 2018 to May 2019 Pool engaged in extensive Facebook activity, including posts, comments and private messages, while he was reported as being in court. His Facebook records also established that he “routinely sought to arrange personal meetings with women he contacted on FB either during breaks and recesses from court, before court convened or immediately after court adjourned.”
“Court personnel assigned in (Pool’s) courtroom in McDowell County regularly observed that Respondent was frequently on his cell phone while on the bench and would often ‘disappear’ during recesses and lunch breaks, and that Respondent would often recuse in cases where the stated reason appeared to be very tenuous, and at other times would continue cases at such a high rate that it would make their jobs more difficult.”
From November 2018 through May 2019, Pool communicated, via Facebook, through inappropriate messages with at least 16 additional women, often seeking photographs of them or sharing photographs of himself. In addition, respondent had ex parte discussions through Facebook regarding pending proceedings in his district.
The order says:
Respondent’s FB records also establish that Respondent routinely sought to arrange personal meetings with women he contacted on FB either during breaks and recesses from court, before court convened or immediately after court adjourned. Court personnel assigned in Respondent’s courtroom in McDowell County regularly observed that Respondent was frequently on his cell phone while on the bench and would often “disappear” during recesses and lunch breaks, and that Respondent would often recuse in cases where the stated reason appeared to be very tenuous, and at other times would continue cases at such a high rate that it would make their jobs more difficult.
The censure order states that Pool “had enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a judge of his district for almost twenty years.”
“As Chief District Court Judge, Respondent made a number of significant contributions to the administration of justice during his 13 years in that position,” the order states. “Upon being named Chief Judge, Respondent immediately instituted a Continuance Policy for his district that all judges followed and successfully eliminated significant back log in his district. Respondent also created a new Truancy Court for McDowell and Rutherford County at least twelve years ago where he and his colleagues volunteered their time after court to meet with parents, grandparents and students to emphasize and encourage students to stay in school, be present each day, and to work hard to get a good education. Respondent has also actively been engaged in his community. . . “
Additionally, the order states that Pool “has also undertaken significant efforts to determine the cause of his sexual misconduct and to address the problems in his personal life.”
His primary care physician conducted a physical examination in early October 2020 and ordered an MRI, which showed mild atrophy or shrinkage of the front and the left temporal lobes of his brain. An evaluation by a physician resulted in a diagnosis of early stage frontotemporal dementia, a disease which can manifest itself through a lack of control of sexual impulses, according to the censure order.
“Respondent agrees that based upon the nature of his misconduct and his recent diagnosis of early signs of dementia, he will not seek a commission as an emergency judge or a retired recall judge, nor will he attend future judicial conferences or continuing judicial education (CJE) programs offered to judges of the State of North Carolina,” reads the order.
“In addition, because respondent is no longer a sitting judge and has agreed not to serve as such, while taking into account respondent’s eighteen years of distinguished service as a judge and respondent’s expression of remorse, we agree that censure is appropriate,” reads the order.
The decision for censure was stated in the order as follows:
The undisputed facts at issue in this matter establish that Respondent’s conduct involved moral turpitude and dishonesty with the SBI and the Commission during their investigations in an effort to prevent the discovery of the
full extent of his sexual misconduct. As such, and despite Respondent’s recent diagnosis of the early stages of frontotemporal dementia on the eve of his disciplinary hearing (a fact he noted during his clinical evaluation on
October 20, 2020), the Commission does not hesitate to conclude that Respondent’s conduct between 2017 and 2019 was willful and renders him unfit to serve as a judge of the State of North Carolina and that Respondent fully
understood that his conduct would justify disciplinary action. By Respondent’s own admission to the SBI on May 16, 2019, his conduct with respect to Ms. [T.] alone was “terrible” and could result in disciplinary action by the
Commission to include a recommendation of removal from office and loss of his pension and that his preference was that the Commission would not learn of his misconduct. . . .
The Commission thus concludes that Respondent also engaged in willful misconduct in office.
(Second alteration in original).
¶ 7 In addition to these conclusions of law, the Commission also considered the fact that respondent “is no longer a sitting judge of the State of North Carolina and has agreed that he will never serve in such capacity again,” that he “had served for approximately 18 years as a judge, and for over a decade as chief judge of District 29A, without any disciplinary matters before the Commission,” that he “had contributed to improvements to the administration of justice in his district,” and thathe is in “the early stages of frontotemporal dementia.” Based on the conclusions of law and these mitigating factors, the Commission recommended that respondent be censured.
¶ 8 I
Pool’s censure, however, will not affect his retirement pension. The case was last heard on Nov. 13, 2020 with an order issued on Dec. 18, 2020.