Transylvania County Courthouse in Brevard.

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A lawyer accused two years ago of improper conduct with clients will not face criminal charges, acting District Attorney Andrew Murray said earlier this month.

Nearly two years ago, then-District Attorney Greg Newman told Carolina Public Press that he asked the State Bureau of Investigations to look into allegations of sexual misconduct with clients against attorneys Donald Barton and Will Cathey, both based in Transylvania County.

Cathey, who was also a county commissioner, died last summer. Both he and Barton had offices in the same building.

“After reviewing a thorough investigation completed by the (SBI) on the matters you reference, DA Greg Newman determined that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant any criminal charges.” Murray said. “…  I have reviewed the case file and concur with his decision.  This matter has been closed by the SBI and my office.”

The SBI completed its investigation on the attorneys and delivered the information to Newman’s office on May 12, 2020, a spokeswoman for the SBI said early last year. CPP checked with Newman’s office multiple times on the status of his decision. Newman said in June 2020 that the SBI was conducting additional interviews, and by November he had not yet received the full results of the investigation.

Murray said Newman “determined the charges were unfounded” in February 2021. He added there was “not sufficient evidence to warrant any charges.”

That same month, an affidavit filed with the Clerk of Superior Court in Henderson County asked for Newman’s removal as district attorney. 

A judge removed Newman from office in April after a three-day hearing. He was the district attorney for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Murray, the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, to take over the beleaguered three-county prosecutorial district in early May.

Murray said he notified Barton of the decision in the case in a recent phone call.

Barton did not return a request for comment on the dismissal. In 2019, he denied the allegations.

“I haven’t committed any crime,” Barton said in 2019. “If someone alleges I committed any kind of crime, I am going to sue them. They can get ready. I don’t care who it is.”

In North Carolina, ethical rules for lawyers say they cannot have sex with current clients absent a preexisting relationship. Newman told CPP in 2019, “There are some allegations against Brevard attorneys that could be ethical issues that the state bar would need to deal with.”

However, the bar cannot reveal whether it is investigating an attorney, said Katherine Jean, counsel with the N.C. State Bar. If a matter is scheduled for a disciplinary hearing, it then becomes public on the bar’s website.

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.