In the spring, when the INDY offered to let me write an occasional opinion column, it seemed like a cool opportunity to talk about the (many) systemic failures of our justice system. I imagined what would basically be a longer version of what I was already doing most days on Twitter. But I never imagined I’d end up as part of a story.

On December 1, as I was sitting down to eat dinner while cat-sitting for my significant other, I got a call from a reporter with The Daily Tar Heel.  

“What do you think of the specific terms of this consent judgment?” 

He was referring to a settlement that the UNC System’s public-relations flacks had announced the Wednesday before Thanksgiving—deliberately timed to minimize media coverage—giving the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans the toppled statue known as Silent Sam, plus an extra $2.5 million in education money to build a Mausoleum and Klubhouse for it.

I told him I’d have to call him back because I hadn’t seen the judgment (also, dinner). I pulled up the university’s website but couldn’t find any court documents. Likewise with our local newspapers. And the television stations. And literally everywhere else.

About a half-dozen news stories in, trying to find the text of this judgment, I read through The New York Times’ write-up on the settlement. Still no documents, but also a curious entry in the story: the head of the SCV, a Chatham County probation officer named R. Kevin Stone, “did not know specifically when his group had sued the university.”

Now, I’ve litigated cases where one party or the other is a bit clueless about what’s going on. I don’t expect a plaintiff to know the day, hour, and minute when their attorney filed a lawsuit. But I certainly expect them to have at least a ballpark idea when they’re a law enforcement officer talking with a national news outlet about a multimillion-dollar settlement that dwarfs the group’s annual budget by a couple of orders of magnitude.

So I decided to find out for Stone. The courts were still closed for the holiday weekend, but, like many litigators, I also have remote access to the civil lawsuit information system. And it turned out the lawsuit was filed, served, answered, and settled on the same day. (When the court reopened, we learned it was even faster: Everything was done in seven minutes.)

Same-day shenanigans, timed to fall before a four-day holiday weekend, smelled like a scandal.  So I tweeted about it. And then things got downright crazy.

A member of the SCV—the group getting $2.5 million—sent me the text from a lengthy email Stone distributed the day the settlement was announced, gloating about how he had worked with legislators and judges to engineer this sort of outcome even though everyone knew their lawsuit was garbage. So I tweeted that, too. A reporter suggested converting it to a PDF since it was so long. So I did, and uploaded it to Dropbox. Then the SCV filed a fraudulent complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, claiming it owned the copyright to the email—shutting down my ability to share things on Dropbox, but also confirming the authenticity of the contents.

I demanded the SCV use the $2.5 million to set up a scholarship fund for black students, or I’d sue the organization for violating the DMCA.

Then, I did.

Meanwhile, so many people have discovered problems with the case that it looks like the legal equivalent of a recursive dumpster fire. The SCV? Never had standing to sue in the first place. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, which had “assigned” its “rights” to SCV to bring the lawsuit? Never owned the statue. That assignment of UDC’s rights? Violated state law.

UNC’s president? He signed the settlement the day before it was voted on. The Board of Governors chairman? He signed it five days before the vote—and a day before the UDC assigned its rights to the SCV. The lawsuit the plaintiff filed? A former general counsel at UNC told me he’s certain it was drafted by Womble Bond Dickinson, the firm representing UNC.

And that’s not even getting into the connections between the judge and that law firm, or reports of the SCV’s leadership being involved in embezzlement, gang activity, and pulling guns on dissenters when questions were asked.

This is all just a toe-in-the-water of the chicanery that’s been unearthed in the #SilentSham scandal so far. 

Discovering it is the sort of thing local media excels at, but in this case, the entire story went undetected until its public announcement—likely because local newsrooms have shrunk so dramatically over the last few years. And if your government can get away with giving $2.5 million in education money to a neo-Confederate group without anyone noticing until it’s done, imagine what other corruption it can facilitate behind closed doors.

Whether you join the INDY Press Club at, subscribe to your local newspaper, or do something else entirely, we need your help to keep government officials accountable. Get caught up on the sheer breadth of this #SilentSham scandal, then pitch in to join the fight.

T. GREG DOUCETTE is a local attorney, criminal justice reform advocate, a pain in the UNC System’s ass, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All. Follow him on Twitter @greg_doucette.

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