State board allows Lyerly to stay on ballot
By Sarah Nagem
Laura Lyerly can remain on the November ballot as a Democratic candidate for the Rowan County Commission despite a felony in her past, the State Board of Elections decided Friday.
The Salisbury attorney who challenged Lyerly’s right to serve in a public office said he will appeal the board’s decision to the Wake County Superior Court.
The state board in Raleigh upheld last month’s decision by the Rowan County Board of Elections. That board also said that Lyerly’s prayer for judgment continued in a 1998 felony embezzlement charge does not make her ineligible to run for office.
The N.C. Constitution prohibits people convicted of felonies from holding public office until their citizenship rights are restored.
Lyerly, 29, has said that she was working a summer job at Kmart 10 years ago and had let a customer pass through her checkout line without paying.
Larry Leake, chairman of the State Board of Elections, said during the hearing Friday that he doesn’t think a prayer for judgment continued “continues indefinitely.”
The judge in Lyerly’s 1998 case recommended but did not impose that Lyerly participate in life skills training, according to court records. The judge also ordered that if Lyerly had future legal problems, the case would be reopened and a suspended sentence would be imposed.
Leake said the special conditions attached to the prayer for judgment continued made the case final. Such a case is final when the prayer for judgment continued is handed down, Leake said, unless the defendant is scheduled to re-appear in court. Lyerly apparently did not have another court date.
“I don’t believe that we nor the Rowan County Board of Elections (need) to impose on her some consequence of a criminal conviction,” Leake said.
James “Pete” Hoffman filed a protest to challenge Lyerly’s place on the ballot. He appealed the case to the state after last month’s decision by the Rowan elections board.
After the hearing Friday, Hoffman said he will ask the Wake County Superior Court to hear the case. He will also file another protest with the Rowan County Board of Elections to challenge Lyerly’s right to vote, he said.
Hoffman said that as an attorney who has only been practicing law for two years, he is dedicated to this process.
“I feel the law should be followed,” Hoffman said.
Lyerly did not attend the hearing Friday, but her attorney, Richard Huffman, represented her there.
After the hearing, Huffman said he was pleased with the board’s decision. Even convicted felons who serve jail time can run for public office after they complete their sentences, he said.
“It’s not rational to say that (a prayer for judgment continued) continues forever,” Huffman said.
He questioned Hoffman’s decision to not drop the issue.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Huffman said. “It’s a waste of public money and resources.”
Hoffman said he thinks the law needs to be clarified to state how long a prayer for judgment continued is in effect. A time frame would help local elections boards determine if a candidate’s citizenship rights are in effect, he said. “I don’t think you want county boards saying, ‘Well, now it’s been long enough and you can be reinstated,’ ” Hoffman told the board.
Lyerly could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.