On June 11, 2021, the North Carolina Supreme Court concluded that censure of Judge Pool was appropriate, following a recommendation by the Judicial Standards Commission.
Censure is a formal statement of disapproval, with no physical or monetary consequences. It is a legal action often taken when a judge, cabinet member, or the president conducts themselves in a manner that violates the Code of Conduct they agree to when entering a position in government.
In the case of In Re Pool, C. Randy Pool had presided over a North Carolina general district court as a judge for 18 years, serving as a Chief Judge from 2006 until his retirement in November 2019. In 2019, a woman attempted to extort former Judge Pool by threatening to share sexually explicit messages the two shared if the former judge refused to pay her $5,000. This launched an investigation by the Judicial Standards Commission, which then discovered a history of sexual misconduct and abuse of power as a judge to make predatory advances towards women. Throughout this investigation, former Judge Pool withheld evidence and repeatedly lied in an effort to hide the full extent of his misconduct.
Former Judge Pool exchanged explicit sexual messages with at least 35 different women between November 2018 and May 2019. While this alone does not necessarily meet the threshold for censure, former Judge Pool targeted women who were engaged in cases that he would be hearing. The Commission concluded that he used his position as Chief Judge to have sex with these women in exchange for ruling in their favor.
During their deliberations, North Carolina’s Supreme Court asked that former Judge Pool be physically evaluated. During this exam, Pool’s primary care physician ordered an MRI which uncovered a mild shrinkage in his brain. On October 20th, 2020, former Judge Pool was diagnosed with an early stage of dementia. This was part of his defense, as dementia can sometimes manifest in uncontrolled sexual impulses.
Before November 2018, Pool also had no history of misconduct. With no history of misconduct and Pool voluntarily resigning in 2019, the Supreme Court could not punish Pool by removing or suspending him as a presiding judge. Due to Pool’s recent dementia diagnosis, the court was unable to conclude that Pool’s misconduct was a result of his own will and not a result of dementia. Since they could not conclude that Pool did not act as a result of his health condition and Pool no longer presided over a court, the Supreme Court agreed with the Judicial Standards Commission’s recommendation for censure. The Supreme Court added that Pool’s written apology showed sufficient remorse for misconduct.
This case surrounds an important and current topic: a man in a position of power taking advantage of women of lower statuses. Many women agree to demands made by a man in a higher position of power, fearing the consequences of their refusal. This is the very core of the #MeToo movement. Communities near the North Carolina court that Pool presided over raised concerns over the verdict reached by the Supreme Court, arguing that censure was too kind for Pool.
Controversy arose over former Judge Pool’s use of his dementia diagnosis as an excuse to avoid the consequences of his actions. Locals called this a “hush, hush” investigation, asking for the State of North Carolina to step in, and punish Pool further, saying that he has “been crooked for years.” Some women have chosen to anonymously reveal their own experiences in Pool’s court with newspapers and online. And yet, since the Supreme Court’s decision, no further action has been taken on the case, despite these concerns of a lack of justice from the community.
The community also raised frustrations with Governor Cooper’s appointment of Michelle McEntire as the new district court judge replacing Pool. During the vetting process, it was revealed that Ms. McEntire advocated on behalf of one of the women that Judge Pool took advantage of, as her attorney. After being made aware of the relationship between her client and former presiding judge, Ms. McEntire failed to report Judge Pool for misconduct and did not help her client escape the relationship in any way. Despite these concerns, Judge McEntire was sworn in as the new district judge in August 2020.
Precedence for other sexual harassment cases will stem from how the state of North Carolina handled this case and the appointment of Ms. McEntire. Will North Carolina address the concerns of being too lenient with Former Judge Pool? Or will it continue to claim that Former Judge Pool has shown sufficient “expression of remorse”?
Nicole Masarova is from Foster City, California, studying Public Policy.