On Sunday, former Apex Town Councilmember Scott Lassiter filed a lawsuit accusing House Speaker Tim Moore of carrying on a years-long affair with his wife, Jamie Lassiter, the director of the North Carolina Conference of Clerks of Superior Court.
The complaint is full of juicy allegations, from the salacious—Moore “convinced Mrs. Lassiter to engage in degrading sexual acts with him, including group sexual activity”—to potential abuses of power.
For example, Scott Lassiter says his wife wouldn’t end the affair “for fear of retaliation,” that Moore dangled political favors to smooth things over after being confronted about the relationship, that Moore had sex “with others over whom he had power or influence,” and that Moore conspired with an unknown person to place spy cameras on the Lassiters’ property.
Lots to unpack there. For now, though, let’s focus on the anachronisms under which Moore and about 200 other North Carolinians will likely be sued this year: alienation of affection and criminal conversation.
The former refers to a defendant’s “wrongful and malicious conduct”—i.e., initiating an affair—that disrupted a loving marital relationship. The latter has only two requirements: a couple was married, and one of them had sex with the defendant; the fact that the affair was consensual is irrelevant.
Both so-called heartbalm torts are drawn from the common-law “belief that a husband owned his wife and was entitled to compensation for a lost property interest in her sexual fidelity,” as H. Hunter Bruton explained in the Duke Law Journal in 2016, not laws passed by the General Assembly. And until 1897 and 1925, North Carolina women couldn’t bring alienation-of-affection and criminal conversation lawsuits, respectively; only aggrieved husbands could.
Almost every state allowed heartbalm torts 200 years ago. But not North Carolina.
Read the rest of this story over at The Assembly.
House Speaker Tim Moore is facing a lawsuit over an alleged affair, but the claims are based on common-law torts most other states have tossed.
On June 12, Markayle Gray filed a civil rights complaint against Charlotte Secondary, a predominantly Black and Latino charter school whose website declares that diversity “is necessary for the accomplishment of our mission.”
Gray, a middle-school teacher, was “the latest casualty of the book-banning hysteria sweeping American education,” the legal team said in a press release last week, alluding to efforts made by right-wing groups such as Moms for Liberty to censor books about race, gender, and sexuality in schools across the country—fomented by politicians like North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.
The lawsuit says Charlotte Secondary administrators approved Gray’s use of Nic Stone’s 2017 young adult novel Dear Martin as part of his Black History Month curriculum. But in late January 2023, “some white parents began to raise complaints … that the content in Dear Martin was divisive and injected what they regarded as unwelcome political views on systemic racial inequality into their children’s classroom,” the complaint says.
On February 2, principal Keisha Rock fired Gray, citing “the emergence of parental opposition over Dear Martin and other aspects of Gray’s teaching content related to racial equality.”
“I cannot address complaints made by parents all day,” Rock allegedly told Gray. Later, the lawsuit says, Rock told others she feared reprisals from the Department of Public Instruction because a complaint had been filed against Gray for teaching “critical race theory.” (DPI told CNN it had no record of such a complaint. Davis told The Assembly that he had not seen the alleged complaint but had reason to believe it existed.)
At the same time, Gray’s lawsuit says the school has not responded so aggressively to “multiple” complaints from Black parents about white teachers, and says the school “took no steps to investigate or examine whether any of the parental opposition … might have been rooted in the parents’ own racial bias or resentment.”
Dear Martin, a critically acclaimed best-seller, focuses on a Black, Yale-bound teenager who writes a series of letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after being racially profiled and wrongfully arrested. Later, he witnesses a white off-duty cop fatally shoot his best friend following a dispute over loud music—a fictionalized event that recalls the real-life murder of Jordan Davis in Florida in 2012.
“This book is regarded as a classic exemplary text to educate young teenagers about being Black and young in America,” said Artur Davis, one of Gray’s attorneys and a former Alabama congressman.
The school could have opted not to renew his contract. But instead, Gray was fired midway through his first year at Charlotte Secondary. The lawsuit says administrators deviated from their own procedures, bypassing a “progressive disciplinary approach” that includes performance improvement plans and “administration-managed dialogue” to mediate parent-teacher conflicts.
An attorney for Charlotte Secondary told CNN that “the termination of Mr. Gray’s employment was based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory, nonretaliatory reasons.”
Did someone forward this to you? Subscribe here to get The Courts Newsletter every week.
On Our Radar
>> Planned Parenthood v. Stein
On Friday, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a Duke OB-GYN asked a federal court to block North Carolina’s new abortion law, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1. Rather than arguing that banning abortion after the first trimester is inherently unconstitutional—a nonstarter since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year—Planned Parenthood argues that the law passed last month “injected requirements that are unintelligible, inherently contradictory, irrational, and/or otherwise unconstitutional into every part of the abortion process.”
Some examples the suit cites: The law repealed another statute that exempted abortion from the state’s fetal homicide law—a crime that makes it a life sentence to kill an “unborn child”—which “creates confusion” about whether legal abortions are, in fact, legal. It’s also unclear when doctors are banned from providing medication abortions under the new law, and the requirement that sexual assault survivors receive abortions after 12 weeks only in a hospital is “irrational.”
In cases where an abortion is provided to a minor, the law requires doctors to submit information to the state within three days that isn’t available until much later—“including whether a minor who had a medication abortion returned for the follow-up appointment that is required to be scheduled seven to 14 days later.” It’s also unclear whether the law exempts abortions performed due to a medical emergency from the mandatory 72-hour waiting period, which “could put patients at risk of gratuitous suffering, severe injury, and death.”
Planned Parenthood argues that the law was poorly written because it was rushed through the General Assembly in less than 72 hours, without amendments, debate, or public input.
>> North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute v. N.C. State Board of Elections
Voting rights advocates filed a motion for summary judgment on Thursday asking a federal court to block a “racist” state law that makes it a crime for people on parole, probation, or post-release supervision following felony convictions to vote.
It’s the latest move in a lawsuit that has dragged on since 2020. The motion alleges that the law “is an unconstitutional trap for the unwary” because of its vague language and inconsistent enforcement. While state law says that ex-felons’ rights are restored upon their “unconditional discharge” from their sentence, the motion argues that neither the law, the courts, nor the State Board of Elections has defined that term.
Interestingly, a deposition attached to the motion indicates that the audit the NCSBE conducted following the 2016 election—which identified 441 former felons suspected of voting that year, 68 percent of whom were Black—came “in part” as “a result of political pressure.” Following the audit, the NCSBE referred 422 cases of alleged felon voting for prosecution in 2017, according to court documents; two years earlier, it referred only nine. Since 2017, the NCSBE has referred about 80 cases to prosecutors.
“The audit did result in a lot of people being caught up in the investigation and referred for prosecution, when, as the audit makes quite plain, a lot of these folks didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong,” NCSBE general counsel Paul Cox testified in the deposition.
The law prevents about 56,000 people in North Carolina from voting, advocates say.
In a related case, Republicans on the state Supreme Court, all of whom are white, ruled in April that a law requiring former felons to pay court fees and fines before regaining the right to vote was not written with racist intent—explicitly rejecting statistical data showing that the law disproportionately affects Black people—and did not amount to an unconstitutional poll tax. The court’s two Democrats, both Black, dissented.
Have any suggestions for our courts team? Know of any stories we should look into? Email us at email@example.com.
The Assembly is a digital magazine covering power and place in North Carolina. Sent this by a friend? Subscribe to our newsletter here.