Lyerly vows to stay on ballot despite felony
By Jessie Burchette
Despite a felony on her record, Laura Lyerly, the 29-year-old Democratic candidate for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, has no plans to leave the ballot.
Her 10-year-old guilty plea has raised questions about whether she can legally run or serve.
In Lyerly’s first countywide race ó the Democratic primaries earlier this month ó she got 6,351 votes, beating out more well-known candidates for one of two spots on the ballot.
She said Wednesday she would likely challenge any effort to remove her from the ballot.
Lyerly, of 8655 U.S. 601, pleaded guilty to a felony count of embezzlement from K-mart in 1998. She received a prayer for judgment continued.
The state Attorney General’s Office is preparing an opinion on whether the prayer for judgment counts as a conviction. The N.C. Constitution prohibits people convicted of felonies from holding public office.
Lyerly said the incident at K-mart is something she isn’t proud of, but she hasn’t tried to hide it.
During a 2007 run for the Salisbury City Council, Lyerly acknowledged taking things that didn’t belong to her while she was a college student working a summer job at K-mart.
“Someone with me came through my register and didn’t pay,” Lyerly said, adding that she was caught in the act.
It’s also stuck in her mind that it was the eighth day of the eighth month in 1998, and she was working the No. 8 register.
When she filled out the filing form at the Board of Elections on Feb. 29, she circled “No” in answer to a question asking if she had been convicted of a felony.
And she maintains she never was.
Lyerly’s attorney in 1998, Lucretia Trent, helped her consider various alternatives. She opted for the plea and the prayer for judgment because “in local lawyer-speak it was not an actual conviction,” Lyerly said. “It’s like it did not occur,”
It never crossed her mind to ask Rowan County Elections Director Nancy Evans about the guilty plea and whether that should be on the filing form.
Lyerly didn’t foresee questions arising about the 10-year-old episode and she was “very surprised” with her win in the May 6 primary. She credits her prior run for the Salisbury City Council with building name recognition and reliance on an extensive e-mail list.
Her campaign message is about building bridges.
“I’m trying to bring people together, rather than be divisive,” she said.
While most candidates gathered at the Cohen Administration Building on election night, Lyerly watched returns on the Board of Elections Web site with her mother, Paige Lyerly, who uses a wheelchair.
Her mother was seriously injured in a Christmas Day 1996 wreck on Stokes Ferry Road that killed her father, James Lyerly. Her grandmother, Olive Robinson Fowler, was also seriously injured.
During the days after the election, Lyerly was overwhelmed by phone calls. She admits that she didn’t return the calls in a reasonable time.
“I didn’t know how to handle it,” she said.
She plans to focus more on timely responses and revamping her schedule to deal with the campaign, including attending more events around the county.
Along with campaigning, she’s now in summer school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she is working toward a master’s degree in public affairs. And she manages her family’s properties.
Elections officials have said they will consider her status as a candidate only if someone files a challenge. No challenge has been filed.
And officials are awaiting the Attorney General’s opinion.
Lyerly said if the Attorney General’s ruling goes against her, she may attempt to challenge it.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or email@example.com.