Grand jury considering charges against Attorney General Josh Stein over campaign ad

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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A grand jury is considering charges against Attorney General Josh Stein for a 2020 election campaign ad commonly referred to as "Survivor."

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A grand jury is considering misdemeanor criminal charges against North Carolina's top lawyer -- Attorney General Josh Stein.

It comes after a campaign ad commonly referred to as "Survivor" in the 2020 election.

The jury is asking Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman to present it with an indictment to consider against Stein, a Democrat.

READ THE GRAND JURY'S PRESENTMENT (.pdf opens in new window)

The ad was distributed by the Stein for Attorney General Campaign.

Freeman said the grand jury decision follows investigations conducted by the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation during the past two years.

The next step in the case will be to send indictments to the grand jury, Freeman added.

The investigation began after Jim O'Neill, Stein's opponent in the 2020 race for attorney general, filed a complaint about the campaign ad under a 1931 North Carolina law.

That law, North Carolina General Statute 163-274, makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor "for any person to publish or cause to be circulated derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in any primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is circulated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election."

In the Stein campaign ad, a sexual assault victim and employee of the North Carolina Department of Justice said: "As a survivor of sexual assault, that means a lot to me, and when I learned that Jim O'Neill left 1,500 rape kits (sitting) on a shelf leaving rapists on the street, I had to speak out."

At issue is whether the ad violated the North Carolina General Statute.

Attorneys for Stein's campaign filed a lawsuit seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment. But after reviewing arguments from all sides in civil litigation regarding the statute, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles found the statute to be constitutional and denied the request. An appeal of Eagles' order was pending at the time the grand jury returned a presentment, Freeman said.

In a statement released Monday night, the Stein Campaign dismissed the developments as "nonsense."

"District Attorney Freeman continues to pursue her nonsense investigation over a campaign ad that is true from an election that is long since passed, using a 91-year-old statute that has never been used against any other candidate," the Stein Campaign said. "While the Attorney General is disappointed by this ongoing distraction, he continues to focus on his work to test sexual assault kits and get justice for survivors of sexual assault."