George E.B. Holding will step down as U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina on July 8 after five years in the office. He had previously been the first assistant U.S. attorney in the office for four years.
Holding, 43, said he had no plans other than to take his four children between 11 years old and 8 months old to Disney World before the summer is out. In the past, he has thought about going into private practice while incorporating some pro bono work or university-level teaching.
"I can assure you that whatever I do next will entail public service, and public service doesn't mean public office. It can be volunteer work, pro bono work. I'm committed to public service in some form or another," Holding said in an interview. "I'm committed to public service for the long term." Holding is a member of the prominent Smithfield banking family that controls much of First Citizens BancShares Inc., the parent company of First Citizens Bank. Plans of his resignation were first reported by The News & Observer of Raleigh on Friday. Waiting to succeed Holding is Charlotte attorney Thomas Walker, who has the backing of both North Carolina senators. Walker was an assistant U.S. attorney in the western district of North Carolina from 1994 to 2001.
U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., said they backed Holding's replacement but wanted the appointee of former President George W. Bush to stay in office until the investigations into Edwards and Easley were complete. Hagan said she wanted Holding to have time to complete the investigations so as not to make the replacement process political. Burr said Walker's political contributions to Edwards and Easley "represent a conflict of interest."
Edwards was indicted last week on charges of receiving illegal campaign contributions. He has pleaded innocent. Prosecutors and defense attorneys filed a joint motion Friday asking for an extension on the June 15 motion deadline in the case, and for the July 15 trial date to be continued. A federal probe of Easley ended when he was convicted in state court in November of a felony.
Hagan said last week that with Edwards' indictment it was time for Walker to take over. Burr said Friday he will act when the Senate reconvenes next week to let Walker's nomination go forward. Holding may be most remembered for bringing public corruption cases that resulted in convictions against former state House Speaker Jim Black, former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, and former U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, D-N.C. "Our prosecutions have disrupted the culture of self-dealing and corruption that has existed in some circles among those who wield political power in Raleigh," Holding said in a statement.
Holding said he was phoned after going to bed Thursday night by assistant prosecutors alerting him that a sheriff's investigator working with a U.S. Marshal's Service fugitive task force was shot to death while serving an arrest warrant. Federal and state prosecutors will coordinate to decide which court system would be better suited to try the accused gunmen, Holding said. Waiting for Walker, if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, are about 50 prosecutors and another 50 staffers who prosecute thousands of defendants every year, including about 300 violent felons, Holding said.
"This is a fast-moving train and he's going to have be running along to jump on. I think he's up to the task," Holding said.