Charlotte lawyer Nick Mackey, the former state legislator whose law license was suspended in 2010 for a “pattern of misconduct,” is in the spotlight again – this time for sleeping during a client’s trial.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday tossed out conspiracy and racketeering convictions against Nicholas Ragin because Mackey, his court-appointed lawyer, repeatedly nodded off during his trial.
“Based on this record, we find it impossible not to conclude that Mackey slept, and was therefore not functioning as a lawyer during a substantial portion of the trial,” the judges wrote in their order vacating Ragin’s 2006 conviction and 30-year prison sentence.
Mackey rose to prominence during a failed bid to become Mecklenburg Sheriff in 2007.
In a Democratic Party special election to replace former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, officials chose Mackey over longtime Chief Deputy Chipp Bailey. But the state party nullified the election after finding that many precincts had been improperly organized.
During his campaign for sheriff, Mackey’s history with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and actions as a lawyer came under scrutiny.
He resigned in 2003 from CMPD while under investigation for allegedly falsifying work hours. Mackey denied any wrongdoing.
Ultimately, county commissioners stepped in and appointed Bailey as sheriff in 2008. But in a political comeback later that year, Mackey was voted into the N.C. General Assembly.
After serving one term as a state representative, Mackey lost his seat in the May 2010 primary race. That same month, the N.C. State Bar suspended Mackey’s license in a case officials said involved “acts of dishonesty” and “a pattern of misconduct.”
The bar reinstated Mackey’s license in 2011.
Mackey defends work
In a statement sent to the Observer Monday, Mackey said the allegations leveled against him in the Ragin case are untrue “and are the result of the most contentious political battle for Sheriff in Charlotte, North Carolina’s history.”
Mackey said in his statement that he spent “countless hours” preparing to defend Ragin and was “extremely happy to learn that his appeal was successful!!”
In 2004, a federal grand jury indicted Ragin and six others in connection with prostitution and drug rings. Some of the prostitutes were minors, according to court documents. Ragin pleaded not guilty, went to trial in Charlotte and was convicted.
But at a subsequent hearing, Ragin testified that Mackey had fallen asleep repeatedly at trial. One juror testified that Mackey fell asleep “almost every day” of the three-week trial, for “30 minutes at least” at a time.
The federal judges said that deprived Ragin of his constitutional right to a lawyer.
Mackey said it was “ridiculous” to imply that a judge would have allowed him to sleep so long and regularly during trial.
U.S. Attorney Jill Rose said federal prosecutors are “committed to retrying Mr. Ragin for the crimes he committed.”
She said prosecutors were disappointed that the Court of Appeals didn’t accept the findings of the trial judge, “who we believe was in the best position to observe the conduct of defense counsel during the trial.”
The ruling sets a precedent for federal cases in the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia. The decision says five of the 11 regional federal appeals courts now have ruled the same way on slumbering defense attorneys.
Staff writer Maria David and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Nick Mackey’s statement
“After spending countless hours from 2004-2006 preparing to defend my client and going through a three week trial I am extremely happy to learn that his appeal was successful!!
I have always maintained and still do maintain that the allegations against me regarding this case are untrue and are the result of the most contentious political battle for Sheriff in Charlotte, North Carolina’s history.
The Legal system should be free of politics. I have come to expect that some people and various media outlets will distort my record and/or actions as result of the tensions that emerged from that contest, but I am not used to attorneys disparaging a Federal Court Judge in this way.
I understand and expect for defense counsel to do anything within ethical bounds in order to defend their clients. I would do the same. I have no problem with appellants’ counsel using any argument that they feel will prevail.
But, to imply that a Presiding Federal Court Judge would allow defense counsel to ‘sleep almost every morning and afternoon’ ‘for 30 minutes’ as was reported, and do nothing, is ridiculous, and in my view, offensive to the Judge and to me. I will leave it to each person to form their own opinions as to how realistic that is.
‘Candor to the Court’ is a very important part of our legal system and 99% of the time it is automatic. I submit to you that it is sorely missing in this instance.
With that said, I will say again that I am very happy that the defendant/appellant was successful in his appeal. I wish him well.”