Politics & Government

Settlement reached in sexual harassment case involving former Catawba County DA

Jay Gaither
Jay Gaither

Three years ago, the lawsuit – complete with lurid claims of sexual harassment – made headlines just before Election Day and helped defeat then-Catawba County District Attorney Jay Gaither.

Now, after a long, messy battle in federal court, Gaither has reached a settlement with his former assistant prosecutor, Nikki Shaffer. A trial had been scheduled to begin this week.

The agreement comes six months after a separate settlement in which the state of North Carolina, on behalf of Gaither in his official capacity as DA, paid Shaffer $80,000. On Tuesday she said she won $65,000 in a financial settlement from Gaither.

“We’ve resolved the case and I’m satisfied with the result,” said Shaffer, now an assistant prosecutor in Brevard.

In a statement, Gaither said he is “satisfied to put this matter behind him.” His attorney, Vincent Colianni, said, “Mr. Gaither feels vindicated.”

In June 2014, Gaither was locked in a tight re-election race against fellow Republican David Lerner when the lawsuit was filed.

Shaffer, daughter of the DA for Cleveland and Lincoln counties, alleged that Gaither had regularly propositioned her while she worked for his office in 2013 and groped her at least once. She included 35 pages of texts that allegedly passed between her and her former boss. In one text, she claims he said, “I’ve laid hands on you and love the feel of your body.”

Gaither denied the accusations and called them “politically motivated.” Two weeks later he lost the GOP primary runoff to Lerner.

The case fell out of the headlines but not out of court dockets.

In dozens of court motions and documents over three years, the two repeatedly traded arguments and sought to undercut each other. Shaffer admitted having had a brief affair with another attorney. She acknowledged using a pseudonym – “Walter Skinner” – on text messages from Gaither.

In 2014, then-Attorney General – now governor – Roy Cooper asked a federal court to dismiss claims that Gaither sexually harassed Shaffer. Justice Department attorneys cited what they described as the “flirtatious tone” of text messages between the two.

After his re-election loss, Gaither said the public had lost faith in him and blamed his own “errors in judgment.” One involved the Zahra Baker case. The 10-year-old was found murdered and dismembered in 2010. Gaither was widely criticized for a plea bargain in which Zahra's mother Elisa Baker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Critics say she deserved far more.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill