RALEIGH The N.C. State Bar on Monday suspended the law license of former Mecklenburg District Judge Bill Belk for three years for Belks violation of rules of professional conduct while on the bench.
Belk appeared before a hearing panel of the bars Disciplinary Hearing Commission, which had previously found him in violation of its rules.
The state bar leveled new criticism against Belk at Mondays discipline hearing. It accused him of causing harm to the public perception of the legal profession and the administration of justice through his misconduct, along with committing acts of dishonesty.
The public expects lawyers to be of the highest character, said Margaret Cloutier, the bars deputy counsel who represented it in the hearing. The state bar expects lawyers of the highest character.
Belk, the grandson of the Belk department store chain founder, was accused of lying during a 2009 investigation into possible misconduct. As a result, the N.C. Supreme Court banned him from ever returning to the bench, although Belk had already resigned five months previously in November 2009 due to health reasons.
The charges brought against Belk dealt with his decision to remain on the board of Sonic Automotive, one of the nations largest auto retailers, while serving as judge. Judges are prohibited from serving on business boards of directors to avoid conflicts of interests.
He was also accused of lying when he said he received health insurance from Sonic. At the time, it was shown that he got his insurance not from Sonic but from Monroe Hardware, a Belk family-owned business. Belk argued in August that he had said only that getting insurance from Sonic was a prospect for the future.
Belk both testified for himself and brought forward witnesses to testify about the strength of his character and his service to the community, both of which the hearing panel said it took into consideration in its decision.
I hope in your decision that you will reflect on my work for social justice, my deep respect of the law and that I deeply apologize for my actions, Belk said in his closing statement.
He also countered the bars accusations that his actions contributed to negative public perception of the profession. Cloutier argued that the media attention Belks case received had negative consequences. But Belk said he had refused to respond to the media out of respect for the bar.
I just dont think I should be accused for other peoples patterns of behaviors, Belk testified.
Accompanying Belk at the hearing were members of the American Coalition 4 Parents and Children, a South Carolina family court reform advocacy group. Belk highlighted his work in family court during his testimony, which he said resulted from his passion for social justice.
Belk can seek a stay after one year of his suspension. In 2012, the state bar imposed 20 total suspensions, six in which the lawyer could seek a stay after serving some period of active suspension.
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