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Democrats subpoena GOP director in judicial primaries lawsuit

April 19th, 2018

— The state Democratic Party has subpoenaed the state Republican Party’s executive director in its lawsuit over North Carolina’s canceled judicial primaries, and his deposition is scheduled for Monday.

Using a series of grave adjectives, GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said during a Thursday press conference that Democrats are trying to “cripple” the state GOP during the ongoing campaign season by stealing strategy, or at least by taking up time and money.

“Unprecedented,” he said repeatedly.

“Extremely dangerous,” he said.

“Absolutely an unconstitutional fishing expedition,” he said. “Clearly an attack on the sacred constitutional principle of free association.”

The subpoena commands Woodhouse to appear and to bring any emails, texts or other documents regarding the elimination of this year’s judicial primaries that passed between himself and key Republican legislators in the state House and Senate. Woodhouse said an attempt to have the subpoena quashed is “in discussion,” but he also said he expects to appear Monday, even if it’s to refuse to answer most questions.

The subpoena was served April 9, according to paperwork Woodhouse provided.

State Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard said the subpoena is narrowly focused on the canceled primaries, and the deposition will be limited by federal rules of civil procedure to questions relevant in the case. Howard pointed out that Democratic Party leaders are also being deposed in the case.

Howard also pointed to a floated GOP resolution to have the party endorse judicial candidates ahead of the general election as a GOP attempt to circumvent their own decision to cancel primaries.

“Dallas and the NC GOP have been repeatedly been caught trying to rig our elections and suppress the vote,” Howard said in an email. “What’s he trying to hide here?”

Republican lawmakers surprised judges across the state in October by canceling the 2018 judicial primaries as part of a continuing effort to redraw judicial election districts or, potentially, move to an appointments system for judges. The Democratic Party sued Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore in federal court in December, seeking to reinstate 2018 judicial primaries across the state.

Neither Woodhouse nor the state GOP is a named defendant in that suit.

Democrats argue the move is just one more step in repeated efforts to move state courts to the right. Republicans lump this case in with other left-leaning pushbacks against GOP majority moves, including successful legislative and congressional redistricting lawsuits, as an effort to “sue until N.C. is blue.”

Woodhouse called the subpoena “cover for the Democrats to go on an unlimited fishing expedition into our operations.” He said it would set a dangerous precedent, though Republicans have no desire to depose Democratic Party officials to steal their campaign strategies because, he said, those plans simply aren’t any good.

Two GOP legislative candidates complained during the press conference of a chilling effect, saying candidates ought to feel comfortable talking strategy with party officials. Woodhouse also invited the media to attend his deposition, though he noted that he doesn’t exactly control access to the Democratic Party attorney offices where he’ll be interviewed.

“If I have to do this, and if they are going to try to destroy our political process, they should do it under the cold light of day and in front of the media,” Woodhouse said.

Longtime political observers said they couldn’t remember something like this happening – one party subpoenaing leadership of the other during campaign season. But, they added, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Republican consultant Carter Wrenn said he’d be surprised if it hasn’t.

“It’s just politics as usual,” Wrenn said.

Thursday’s press conference was the second time in about two months that Woodhouse has called a press conference to accuse Democrats of unfairly targeting him through the legal system. In February, the GOP got a letter from the Consumer Protection Division in Attorney General’s Office, asking for their side of the story in a robocall complaint filed by state Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds.

Woodhouse accused Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, of using “the full police powers of the state” to come down on a political rival. The state GOP responded to the letter with its own on March 16, declining to get into the matter in detail and asking that the issue be dismissed.

The Attorney General’s Office has not yet responded, according to an office spokeswoman.

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