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State Bar: Bill Belk violated conduct rules

By Caitlin Owens
Correspondent

RALEIGH The N.C. State Bar concluded Friday that former Mecklenburg District Judge Bill Belk violated rules of professional conduct while on the bench.

Belk was accused of lying during a 2009 investigation into possible misconduct. He appeared Friday before a hearing panel of the bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission.

Belk, the grandson of the Belk department store chain founder, said he was “disappointed” with the hearing panel’s decision.

Another hearing will be held on Sept. 26 to decide the appropriate discipline. The possible disciplinary actions include admonition, reprimand, censure, suspension and disbarment.

Belk, facing misconduct charges, resigned from the bench in November 2009. Five months later, the N.C. Supreme Court banned him from ever returning to the bench.

The case revolved around Belk remaining on the board of Sonic Automotive, one of the nation’s largest auto retailers, while serving as judge. Judges are prohibited from serving on business boards of directors to avoid conflicts of interest.

Belk had argued that the prohibition in the judicial code was not mandatory because it said judges “should not” sit on corporate boards. If a prohibition had been intended, Belk argued, the language would say “shall not.”

On Friday, Belk argued that the evidence pointed to the legality of his actions and said he had researched his decision before choosing to remain on Sonic’s board.

“It’s very clear that all I did was try to follow the rules from start to finish,” Belk testified.

Belk was accused of lying when he said he received health insurance from Sonic. At the time, it was shown he got his insurance not from Sonic but from Monroe Hardware, a Belk family-owned business.

Belk testified Friday that he also received state insurance while he was a judge.

He argued he had said only that getting insurance from Sonic was a prospect for the future if he was not re-elected to his position as judge.

“I had to have a safety net. I used that term,” Belk testified. “I never said I had the health care. I said it was a resource.”

Belk said he was “ambushed” with the health care allegations when they were made. He also said he was not involved in the Supreme Court case because he had just suffered a heart attack. He cited the heart attack as the reason for his resignation from the bench.

“How do you defend yourself while sitting in rehab?” Belk said, calling the entire process “improper.”

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