08/18/04 — Adultery suit lies at bottom of judge's censure

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Adultery suit lies at bottom of judge's censure

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 18, 2004 2:09 PM

JACKSONVILLE -- Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell of Goldsboro was censured last week for failing to step aside from a lawsuit that involved a man who also was suing the judge for adultery.

Braswell refused to recuse himself in 2002 from a hearing in Onslow County in the case of R. Walt Willingham and Nathaniel Willingham against Interbay Funding LLC and David Craig as a substitute trustee. He was censured by the state Supreme Court.

Nathaniel Jerome Willingham, who goes by N. Jerome Willingham, sued Braswell in 1996, alleging adultery with his then-wife, Charlene Willingham, a former Goldsboro city employee. The suit, which seeks more than $10,000 in damages, also alleges alienation of affection, criminal conversation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Willinghams were married Dec. 11, 1993, the suit said.

Braswell denied the allegations in his answer filed Jan. 6, 1997, in the Onslow County Courthouse in Jacksonville. Braswell said Willingham was a lawyer whose license had been suspended.

The suit has not been settled out of court or gone to trial. Nothing has been added to the case file since 1998.

Braswell serves as the resident judge for Wayne County but often is assigned to other counties in eastern North Carolina. He has been holding court in New Hanover County.

Charlene Willingham was the coordinator of Goldsboro's Community Development office in the 1990s.

Braswell, then a private-practice lawyer and a state representative, was awarded the job of handling the office's legal affairs after submitting the low bid. A year later, he did not offer a bid, and another firm was awarded the job. Earlier, Harrell Everett, then the city attorney, had represented the office.

Jerome Willingham contends that Braswell lured his wife from their marital home in Jacksonville and bought her a home on Whitfield Drive in Goldsboro near the judge's home. The plaintiff also alleges that Braswell and Mrs. Willingham went to dinner and social engagements, took out-of-town trips and went to motels together.

Jerome Willingham also contends that Braswell assisted his former wife in committing perjury in his divorce complaint.

Willingham said in his lawsuit that Braswell "was a predator, taking advantage of a distraught, week (sic), and emotionally vulnerable client (Charlene Willingham) seeking legal advice.

"Jerry Braswell's repugnant arrogant behavior demonstrates moral turpitude to an (sic) malicious unbearable degree. Jerry Braswell lied in court and participated in fraudulent conduct exploiting his client selfishly to satisfy his putrid beastly lust for sex."

Charlene Willingham left her job with the city in 1997 for a similar job in Salisbury. When she left, the Community Development office was being investigated for misappropriation of funds.

During the investigation, a city building inspector, Luby Coley, was fired after he allegedly received kickbacks from contractors rehabilitating homes. He was charged with five felony counts each of extortion and obtaining property by false pretense.

Coley later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of unlawful receipt of a gift by a public officer. He was sentenced to 45 days but the term was suspended, and he was placed on 24 months of supervised probation, ordered to pay $1,255 in restitution and fined $500 and $270 in court costs.

Mrs. Willingham later sued the city, claiming emotional distress, defamation and negligence. The city denied that it wrongfully discharged her or tried to prevent her from getting another job.

Mrs. Willingham had asked for $750,000, sources said, but settled out of court for a reported $21,000. The city admitted to no liability in settling the suit.