Barrett's Trial Set To Start
The criminal case against Taylortown councilman and former mayor Ulysses S. Barrett Jr. is set to be heard today in Moore County District Court.
The trial had been delayed because Barrett's attorney, Bruce Cunningham of Southern Pines, intends to try the matter at the district level rather than on immediate appeal to Superior Court as is often done. Misdemeanors are tried first at District Court level, but often go on to Superior Court on appeal. Cunningham said that is not what he intends to see happen for Barrett's case.
"Although the case is in District Court, we consider the District Court trial every bit as important as a Superior Court jury trial, because of the nature of the allegations," Cunningham said earlier. "I am sure the prosecution is spending the time necessary to present their side. Mr. Barrett will plead not guilty, and we are getting fully prepared to present his defense."
One charge against the former mayor has been dropped. Barrett was originally charged with three misdemeanors. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agents arrested Barrett and charged him with acting as a town manager while holding the position of mayor, benefiting from a public contract while being a public officer and violating a fraud statute.
The state has since dropped the town manager charge. The statute barring an official from holding both mayor and town manager positions applies only to towns with a manager/council form of government. Taylor-town operates with a town council that elects one member to serve as mayor. This is done at the pleasure of the council and may be changed at any time.
After Barrett won re-election in November, the council chose Jesse F. Fuller Sr., as mayor. Councilman Jeffery Moody, a longtime Barrett supporter, attempted unsuccessfully to have a "re-vote" for mayor at a later council meeting.
The two remaining charges against Barrett, both misdemeanors, have to do with benefiting from a contract while holding public office and a fraud charge arising from his allegedly using service of a town worker to help with work Barrett was doing under contract.
If convicted on the fraud charge, Barrett could no longer serve on the council. He would lose the right to hold office and have to leave the board.
Barrett's trial will take at least a day, attorneys say -- but there are other matters on the same calendar. District courts ordinarily have hundreds of cases on daily dockets -- everything from speeding tickets to shoplifting to bad checks.
District Attorney Maureen Krueger now sets lower level felony cases for disposition in District Court as well in an effort to move cases more speedily through the system and reduce jail crowding.
A special judge, L.T. Hammond, was to be in Moore County today to try so-called "conflict cases" -- cases where a witness or victim is a family member of somebody connected with law enforcement or the court system. Barrett's case was added to his calendar.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Conely met with Cunningham last summer and agreed to continue the case. Other delays were made necessary by Cunningham's duties as a state-appointed defender in a long capital murder case last fall.
Barrett has always contended his actions were legal, saying state law allows small towns to hire board members as long as they don't overcharge. He said that what he charged the town was cheaper than Taylortown would have had to pay somebody else.
His position on the current council, his history as longtime mayor of Taylortown, mean charges against him need to be resolved one way or another, according to his attorney.
"The trial in District Court will be the real trial," Cunningham has said. "His case will be fully defended at the district level."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at jchappell@ thepilot.com.
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