A North Carolina county prosecutor who purportedly kept the family of a child rape victim in the dark about a deal he cut with an alleged rapist has received a three-year stayed suspension, allowing him to continue to practice law.
Gregory Newman may continue to serve as district attorney for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties in North Carolina as long as he does not violate any state laws, after a three-member disciplinary committee for the state's bar association unanimously opted in November against disbarring him.
The North Carolina State Bar proved with "clear, cogent and convincing evidence" that it was not credible for Newman to contend that he believed the victim's family had been notified beforehand of the deal with the alleged rapist, according to an audio recording of the two-day-long hearing held Nov. 12 and 13.
But the committee stopped short of calling for Newman to stop practicing law, said its chair, Don Prentiss.
"We did not believe that this was a case of disbarment," said Prentiss at the conclusion of the hearing. "We did debate long and hard whether an active suspension should be considered, and we came to the conclusion that under the circumstances of this case, that an active suspension would not be appropriate."
The North Carolina State Bar filed a complaint against Newman in July 2019, alleging that Newman cut a deal with James Sapp for the defendant to plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, despite having previously obtained felony child rape charges from a grand jury.
November's disciplinary hearing focused not on the merits of whether Newman should have struck the plea deal with Sapp, but rather on the prosecutor's statement to a judge that the victim's parents had been informed of the arrangement, but that they had not wished to testify, Prentiss said.
Newman's office had originally charged Sapp with rape of a child by an adult and, in keeping with the state's victims' rights laws, notified the child's mother that there would be a court date in September 2014. The mother allegedly indicated interest in the case and appeared at that hearing.
But after a grand jury indicted Sapp in May 2015 on the rape offense as well as four other sexual assault-related charges, the bar's complaint says Newman stopped following state victims' rights rules and cut a deal with Sapp without notifying the child or her parents.
Sapp ultimately pled guilty in October 2015 to misdemeanor assault on a female, ahead of when a hearing in the matter had previously been set. According to the bar, the child never got to deliver a victim impact statement as she'd planned, with Newman telling a court that the family had been notified.
The state bar declined to comment on Friday, said Katherine Jean, an attorney with the organization.
Newman could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Prentiss said during the November hearing that it appeared Newman rushed the underlying proceedings, rather than following proper protocol by telling the victim and her family of the deal with Sapp.
"It seemed to me that the focus was more on making sure that Mr. Sapp got justice and not as much that the ... victim in this case got justice," Prentiss said.
--Editing by Michael Watanabe.