Stein’s New Federal Lawsuit Seeks To Head Off N.C. Punishment Based On 2020 Election Ad Dispute

2020 Stein ad for N.C. Attorney General.

By Mitch Kokai
Carolina Journal

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein is going to federal court to have a 91-year-old state law declared unconstitutional. The suit stems from a 2020 campaign ad challenged as false by Stein’s general election opponent.

“This is an action for declaratory judgment and injunction by Plaintiffs who have been subjected for nearly two years to intrusive law-enforcement investigations, initiated by the losing candidate in the 2020 General Election for the Office of North Carolina Attorney General,” according to the federal complaint.

Stein, the incumbent Democrat, faced Republican challenger Jim O’Neill in the 2020 general election. O’Neill was Forsyth County’s district attorney. Stein won re-election by just 13,622 votes out of 5.4 million ballots cast.

Stein and O’Neill clashed during the campaign over accusations involving untested sexual assault evidence collection kits. Each accused the other of failing to do his job in dealing with the “rape kits.”

The challenger objected to a Stein ad that “truthfully referenced O’Neill’s record of indifference to the large backlog of untested rape kits in his own jurisdiction,” according to Stein’s complaint.

Specifically, O’Neill objected to “a single line from a single Stein Campaign political advertisement,” according to the complaint. Plaintiff Juliette Grimmett, a sexual assault victim policy strategist at Stein’s N.C. Justice Department, “commented on Mr. O’Neill’s failure to act with respect to over 1,500 untested rape kits languishing in the possession of the local law enforcement authorities within Mr. O’Neill’s prosecutorial jurisdiction.”

“When I learned that Jim O’Neill left 1,500 rape kits on a shelf leaving rapists on the streets, I had to speak out,” Grimmett said in the ad.

“O’Neill claimed the ad was false and sought to retaliate,” Stein’s complaint argued. “But he did not do so by pursuing a civil defamation action. Instead, as a sitting District Attorney, he sought to place law enforcement investigators in the position of judging the appropriateness of political speech. The resulting investigations, conducted pursuant to an archaic and never-before-used law enacted in 1931, … seek to punish Plaintiffs for core protected political speech and to chill the speech of Plaintiffs and others going forward in clear violation of the First Amendment.”

Stein is asking the federal court to declare the law unconstitutional. He’s also seeking an injunction blocking the N.C. State Board of Elections and the Wake County district attorney from taking action against the plaintiffs in connection with the disputed law.

“[T]he Statute – although it has been codified for nearly one hundred years – has never been the subject of a reported indictment or charge against any individual or entity, including any political campaign,” Stein’s complaint claimed. “Nor has it been the subject of any reported case from the North Carolina courts. In 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a nearly identical Ohio statute violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it was a content-based restriction that burdened core protected political speech in a manner not narrowly tailored to achieve a state interest.”

N.C. General Statutes Section 163-274(a)(9), declares it unlawful, as a Class 2 misdemeanor, “For any person to publish or cause to be circulated derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in any primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election.”

O’Neill’s campaign cited the disputed statute in a September 2020 complaint to the N.C. State Board of Elections. The Republican challenger’s complaint alleged “that the Stein Campaign and Attorney General Stein were in violation of the Statute on the grounds that candidate O’Neill, ‘who is the elected District Attorney for Forsyth County, has never in his career left “rape kits sitting on a shelf”’ because he was ‘never in the chain of custody as it relates to rape kits.’”

The challenger asked the state elections board to refer his complaint to Wake County’s district attorney for further action. The board conducted an investigation, including interviews in March 2021, and presented its findings to the Wake County district attorney in July 2021.

The SBI also conducted an investigation during the second half of 2021. The investigation involved “nothing further of substance” from January through May this year.

“Plaintiffs believe that enforcement action under the Statute is forthcoming,” according to Stein’s complaint. “In addition, Plaintiffs desire to continue to engage in the dissemination of information concerning political issues and candidates without the prospect of being dragged before governmental agents who seek to sit in judgment of the truth of political speech and who, in any event, can subject Plaintiffs and others to extensive and intrusive investigations under threat of criminal prosecution on subjects constituting core political speech.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles has scheduled an initial hearing on Stein’s complaint Monday in Greensboro.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I find the moral outrage by someone who believes in killing babies somewhat oxymoronic….and hypocritical and ironic and moronic and idiotic. Typical Molech worshipper.

  2. This article is from October 2019

    “One of Stein’s priorities during his term as Attorney General has been addressing the rape kit backlog and related issues, such as the lack of both a tracking system and standardized requirements for how law enforcement agencies should handle the rape kits they receive.

    After the audit was released, Stein called for testing “all untested rape kits located in local law enforcement offices,” as shown in a March 2018 tweet. He also urged the state legislature to provide additional funding to reduce the backlog and authorize a tracking system that would allow the state to know the number and location of kits.

    Before the state Department of Justice received additional funding from the state legislature, it received $4 million in grants from the federal Department of Justice and the Governor’s Crime Commission to help with the backlog.

    Stein also worked with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers to get funding allocated that would supplement the grant money. The result was House Bill 29, the Standing Up for Rape Victims Act of 2019. Also known as the Survivor Act, it was unanimously passed and signed into law last month.

    The state legislature also followed Stein’s recommendation for a statewide tracking system and passed House Bill 945, the Rape Evidence Collection Kit Tracking Act. The law went into effect after Cooper signed it in June 2018, and the tracking system went online in October 2018.

    In the end, the facts show that O’Neill’s tweet about Stein’s record on the rape kit backlog was misleading at best and false at worst.”

    Full story: http://mediahub.unc.edu/unc-factcheck-candidate-for-attorney-general-misleads-about-incumbents-record-on-rape-kit-backlog/

  3. I feel sorry for the rape victims – humans who are actually on this planet already having to wait to punish someone who raped them. But of course men don’t care about that , just gives them and their buddies more time to rape more victims – if you are that type of man.
    How many rape kits are sitting on the shelves? I know this isn’t like Law and Order SVU where everything’s wrapped up in a tidy bow in 45 minutes but no rape kit should be left languishing anywhere in the US for months and months. The police and court systems have tools at their disposal to solve cases and if they can’t do that then find another agency that will for pete’s sake. These victims lives can’t get back to normal until and even if then, they get some justice and get their rapist off the street. People complain about repeat offenders well one way to stop repeat rapists is to test the kit asap and get them off the street. The next victim could be your daughter, wife, mother, granddaughter. Start putting women in charge and things might get done…. except then the good ole boys don’t like that and resign en masse lol

    • Leighlah I agree with most of the points you made. Rape is wrong no doubt and those who rape should be punished with extreme prejudice. While not as common or reported as much, women also commit rape.

      • Yes P.D. that is true and I should have mentioned that. I have a son who was domestically abused by his wife, so I of all people should know that men and women and all others are capable of doing horrible things to other people. Sorry for the omission.

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