When Republican lawmakers approved a five-page list of appointments to important state government entities last week, they included many political donors, allies, and personal friends.
Such rewards for political friendship are highly common in all areas of government, but one selection was more unusual: the appointment of Kenneth Robert Davis to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the State Bar.
Davis, who currently serves as a lawyer for Robeson County, was sanctioned by the same commission in May.
Davis and Republican House Speaker Tim Moore have known each other for three decades. The two attended Oklahoma City University School of Law together and both graduated in 1995, according to the university. A social media post also shows Moore and Davis visiting a water plant together in Lumberton in October 2016, where Davis’s father, Bruce, has served as mayor since earlier that year.
Kenneth Robert Davis also has a relationship with state Sen. Danny Britt of Robeson County, noting in a 2019 interview with The Robesonian that he gave Britt his first job at what was then the Moore & Maynard Law Firm. (That firm was created by Reuben Moore, an attorney with no relation to Speaker Tim Moore. It is now known as Maynard Law Firm.)
Britt said Davis’s appointment came directly from Speaker Moore, and that Davis hadn’t requested it.
“He had not requested to be placed on this committee,” Britt said. “It kind of came out of the blue to him. He didn’t request to serve on it, but he appreciates being asked to serve on the committee. … I did not know he was nominated until I saw it in the appointment bill language. I know for a fact it was Tim Moore’s decision to put him on there and nobody else’s.”
Davis didn’t respond to requests for comment about the appointment.
According to a May 2023 consent order obtained by The Assembly, Davis was brought before the disciplinary commission in response to accounting issues. The commission’s initial inquiry evolved into a review of tax records, which sparked further concerns, according to Britt.
Davis then agreed with the commission’s findings that he failed to maintain accurate identification of all funds in his trust account, had mismanaged client funds, and fell behind on filing and paying several years of state and federal income taxes.
“The obligation to file and pay one’s taxes is a legal and civic duty shared by all citizens,” the consent order states. “When lawyers fail to comply with their tax obligations, it undermines public confidence in the legal profession.”
The consequence was a stayed suspension, meaning Davis would need to spend the next five years abiding by 19 different obligations under the order to avoid having his law license suspended for three years.
The order noted that Davis’s accounting deficiencies “were not the result of any dishonest intent.” The State Bar also concluded that some of his missed tax payments, which have since been paid off, stemmed from obstacles he faced overcoming a drug addiction. According to the State Bar, Davis completed a recovery contract with the Lawyer Assistance Program, set up an Alcoholics Anonymous group at his church, and helps others overcome drug addiction.
The order states that Davis closed his law office in July 2019, had no employees as of May 2023, actively participated in the disciplinary proceeding, and “has established an excellent reputation in the community” while serving as a county attorney for Robeson since July 2019.
Even so, Moore’s appointment creates a perceived conflict of interest, as the recently disciplined attorney is now a member of the very group that reprimanded him.
“I cannot think of another example of somebody so quickly going from being in the metaphorical jail to being the metaphorical jailer,” said Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political scientist.
Britt agreed the appointment could create a bad look but called Cooper’s comment “absolutely ridiculous.”
“He doesn’t even have a criminal conviction,” Britt said. “There’s no criminal charges.”
Davis’s recent appointment is not his first foray into GOP politics.
In coordination with local Republicans, former N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes sought to reappoint Davis to the Bladen County Board of Elections in 2019 after a GOP voter fraud operation impacted the county months earlier. According to public records from the State Board of Elections, Davis was a longtime Democratic voter until June 2014, when he switched to unaffiliated. In April 2015, he switched again, this time to become a Republican.
Davis served on the county elections board at the time Republican pastor Mark Harris’s 2018 victory was upended due to an absentee ballot scheme in Bladen County led by GOP political operative McCrae Dowless. A new election was ordered for the 9th Congressional District race.
After the State Board of Elections ordered the new election, it insisted the Bladen County Board of Elections have all new members due to “recent turmoil in that county’s elections.” The NCSBE denied Hayes’s request to keep Davis on the county elections board.
Hayes said he has no memory of Davis. “The name doesn’t even ring a bell.”
Moore declined to be interviewed or comment for this story.
WRAL first wrote about Davis’s appointment. A spokeswoman for Moore responded to The Assembly’s questions by reaffirming comments Moore made to reporters on Wednesday, in which he said he’d revisit the appointment. He said that while he had been aware of some of the issues Davis had, he believed “it was like a minor bookkeeping thing.”
Britt echoed Moore’s sentiments in an interview. “As far as the bar issue itself, it was, as Tim said, a minor bookkeeping issue and no type of deceit or fraud or unethical activity,” Britt told The Assembly.
Britt said Davis didn’t want to talk to reporters but was aware of the concerns his appointment is sparking. Britt said Davis plans to talk with the disciplinary commission about what next steps it feels are best for the appointment.
“He does have a state suspension and understands that there may be some potential for folks to look upon that negatively if he is on the disciplinary board,” Britt said.
But Britt also said Davis told him in a phone call on Thursday that he may withdraw his own name.
“This is something that he was interested in serving on, something that he would’ve provided some value, but also something that may be more stress than what it’s worth,” Britt said.
Because lawmakers are out of session and won’t return to Raleigh until November 29, Davis’s appointment remains in the law. Britt said Davis could still choose to not participate in any commission activities.
“If he doesn’t get seated, doesn’t go to any meetings, doesn’t participate, then he’s a nonparticipating member and that’s really no issue,” Britt said. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do between now and [November 29] to undo what we’ve done.”
If lawmakers don’t act, Davis will remain on the disciplinary commission through June 2024.
The controversial appointment isn’t the first time Moore has sought to elevate personal friends to positions of power. Emails The Assembly and WHQR reported on last year showed Moore wanted an old friend to become a UNC-Wilmington chancellor and got a board member who resisted his pick removed. And as The Assembly reported last month, allegations of mixing business and personal interests have dogged Moore’s time as speaker.
Cooper, the political scientist, said Davis’s appointment doesn’t break any state ethics rules, as lawmakers are given wide latitude over appointments. But Cooper said questions about the appointment could impact Moore’s future endeavors when he leaves the General Assembly next year. Moore has said he’s considering a congressional run but also exploring other options.
“Every story like this is going to make it harder for him to mount a successful congressional run and get through a primary,” Cooper said, adding that the ordeal might bolster Moore’s résumé if he pursues a lobbying career instead of a congressional one.
Bryan Anderson is a freelance reporter who most recently covered elections, voting access, and state government for WRAL-TV. He previously reported for the Associated Press and The News & Observer. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.