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Newby replaces top employees with Republican loyalists
 
Published Thursday, January 14, 2021
by Yanqi Xu, The Policy Watch

Last Friday, within hours of being appointed by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby as the head of a key judicial office, Andrew Heath began purging it of some career employees.

As new Administrative Office of the Courts director, Heath forced top senior employees to resign with only a few hours’ notice and replaced them with Republican loyalists, including the daughter of a conservative appellate judge.

According to state records from the Office of the Controller and LinkedIn profile updates, these employees were among those who were forced to resign: 

* McKinley Wooten Jr., the director of the AOC, was the first African American in that position. Wooten had been a state employee since 1992.

* Danielle Carman was the deputy director in 2019. She had worked for state government since 1997.

* Tina Krasner, former general counsel, provided legal advice to judicial officials and staff, according to her LinkedIn profile. She held that post since June 2019. Krasner had 26 years in state government.

* Mildred Spearman was the head of the Organizational Learning and Development Division. She began working for the state in 2001.

* Andrew Simpson became the chief counsel for policy and intergovernmental affairs in 2019.

Under state law, these employees were all “at will,” similar to a governor’s cabinet appointees — a classification that allowed them be terminated any time. But rarely does the professional guillotine drop this quickly. Sources told Policy Watch that all five employees were asked to leave, and logged out of their computers within hours.

Many of these career employees had also served under a Republican, former Chief Justice Mark Martin. State campaign finance records show that some of the five who resigned contributed to former Chief Justice Beasley’s campaign, other Democratic candidates or ActBlue, a Democratic fundraising group. Krasner had contributed to Martin’s campaign in 2014. 

An internal memo from the AOC obtained by Policy Watch names the newcomers — two white men and a white woman who recently graduated from college and had limited experience in administrative roles within the judicial branch. 

Only Ryan Boyce had previously worked for the AOC. He will lead Court Programs and Services as well as Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, essentially combining Carman’s and Simpson’s previous responsibilities. Boyce was a regular contributor to former Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign, and donated $200 to Heath’s failed campaign for the state court of appeals in 2018 and $1,000 to Newby’s in 2019. Boyce also was General Counsel for State Superintendent of Public Instruction under its controversial former chief, Mark Johnson.

Trey Allen, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government professor, will be the General Counsel at AOC. He used to clerk for Newby.

Alexis Berg, whom Heath hired as his executive assistant, graduated from UNC in 2020, according to her LinkedIn profile. She’s the daughter of Court of Appeals Judge Republican April Wood and listed herself as the manager of Wood’s political campaigns. Wood filled retired judge Wanda Bryant’s seat and took office earlier this month. 

Apart from being highly desirable, well-paid jobs (state salary data show that previous position-holders were paid close to or more than $100,000 annually), these high-level judicial branch positions command significant influence — both over how the court system interacts with other governmental branches and how North Carolinians interact with the court system.

 

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