08/24/04 — Judge defends actions but accepts censure

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Judge defends actions but accepts censure

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on August 24, 2004 2:00 PM

Judge Jerry Braswell defended his actions that led to his censure by the state Supreme Court but also said that he fully accepted the court's decision.

"I fully accept the ruling of the Supreme Court and will incorporate the wisdom of their decision in my future actions," Braswell wrote in a letter today to the News-Argus.

Braswell, Wayne County's resident Superior Court judge, said he felt compelled to respond to an Aug. 18 article in the News-Argus concerning his censure. Censure is a public reprimand.

"Judges are ordinarily encouraged to avoid public comment on legal matters," he wrote. "However, when silence might lead to confusion or reliance on inaccurate information, judicial comment is appropriate."

The article reported that Braswell had been censured for presiding over a court case in Onslow County in 2002 in which one of the parties had sued him in 1996 for allegedly having an affair with his wife.

The Supreme Court said Braswell should have recused himself from that case in 2002 that involved Nathaniel Jerome Willingham.

Willingham had sued Braswell in 1996, alleging Braswell broke up his marriage with Charlene Willingham. The suit alleged that Braswell got Mrs. Willingham to perjure herself in the couple's divorce case.

Braswell filed a response in which he denied the allegations and said Willingham was a lawyer whose license had been suspended.

Here is Braswell's written response to the events that led to his censure:

"1. In May 1995 Nathaniel J. Willingham filed an action for divorce from bed and board in Onslow County against Charlene Willingham alleging adultery with an individual named Peele.

"2. In December 1995 Jerry Braswell, as the attorney for Charlene Willingham, filed an action for absolute divorce in Wayne County against Nathaniel J. Willingham.

"3. After a year and a half of unresolved marital issues, Nathaniel J. Willingham filed a complaint on 30 October 1996 against Jerry Braswell, the attorney of his wife, Charlene Willingham.

"4. Willingham accused Braswell of alienation of affection and encouraging Charlene Willingham to commit perjury, thereby trying to create a conflict between Braswell and his client that would require Braswell to withdraw in the representation of his client. On 7 January 1997 Braswell filed an answer denying all the allegations in the complaint as totally false.

"5. Willingham and his wife later obtained a divorce and reached a property settlement and Willingham represented to Braswell that the complaint against Braswell would be dismissed. Willingham, however, never took any action in the Willingham v. Braswell case after the complaint was filed.

"6. On 20 March 1998 an Onslow County Judge entered an Order of Removal, removing the Willingham v. Braswell case from the active docket and placing the case in an indefinite inactive status because of the failure of Willingham to proceed with the lawsuit.

"7. On 22 January 2002 Willingham appeared in court before Judge Braswell on an unrelated case and requested a continuance. Willingham represented that defense counsel did not oppose the continuance and Judge Braswell granted Willingham a continuance.

"8. Defense counsel later appeared in court and denied that he had agreed to a continuance. The continuance order was therefore rescinded. Willingham then requested that defense counsel be removed. The request was denied by Judge Braswell. Willingham then requested that the Judge be removed because of the action he filed in 1996, nearly six years prior to the January 2002 hearing.

"9. Judge Braswell reviewed the Willingham v. Braswell file in open court and ruled that the case was inactive and not pending. Willingham filed a complaint regarding the ruling of Judge Braswell.

"10. The Supreme Court reviewed the complaint and determined that the case was pending even though it was in an inactive status and that Judge Braswell should have recused himself.

"I fully accept the ruling of the Supreme Court and will incorporate the wisdom of their decision in my future actions."