RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The state Supreme Court is considering whether a former judge who stepped down after allegations of misconduct can ever again hold judicial office.
The state Judicial Standards Commission accused former Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Bill Belk of misconduct that included staying on the board of Sonic Automotive after being told to step down. He earned $143,000 in stock and fees in 2008 from the Charlotte auto retailer.
Belk resigned as a judge in November after hearings held by the standards commission. The Supreme Court can prohibit him from being elected or appointed judge again, The Charlotte Observer reported Thursday.
Attorney Kevin Byrnes argued to Supreme Court justices on Wednesday that the judicial conduct rule against serving on a corporate board was unclear. The rule says judges "should not" serve on corporate boards, instead of the more definitive "shall not," Byrnes said.
Justice Mark Martin said under Byrnes' interpretation that "should" does not impose a requirement, the code of judicial conduct would allow judges to continue practicing law, raise money for political parties and join organizations that practice racial discrimination.
"I'm having a hard time understanding your argument," Martin said.
"This is a judge, an example for the community," Justice Paul Newby told Byrnes, "and the code says 'Should not serve as a director."'
Belk also was accused of giving the commission false information when he said he relied on the board membership for health insurance. Sonic said it doesn't provide health insurance to board members.
Byrnes said what Belk meant was that he was relying on the membership for future health insurance because he fears he is prone to develop cancer in the future.
Belk also was accused of misconduct in a confrontation with Chief District Judge Lisa Bell, which stemmed from her refusing Belk when he wanted to take time off to attend a Sonic corporate board meeting.
"He was angry. He was frustrated," commission counsel Nancy Vecchia said. "That confrontation is aggressive, is loud. It crosses the line."
Chief Justice Sarah Parker of Charlotte recused herself from the case.
Parker did not provide a reason for recusing herself, but Belk alleged during a speech last April that Parker had been "bought" by Charlotte lawyers when she appointed Bell as chief judge.
Belk is the grandson of the founder of the Belk department store chain and nephew of former Charlotte Mayor John Belk.