Rutherford County Courthouse in Rutherfordton. Judge C. Randy Pool, who handled cases in Rutherford and McDowell counties suddenly retired in late 2019. File photo

A district attorney who charged a Marion woman with extortion for exposing a judge’s sexually explicit texts with her nearly two years ago said he will continue to prosecute the case against her, even though the state Supreme Court has sanctioned the judge for his behavior. 

Former Chief District Court Judge C. Randy Pool “initiated and engaged in conversations with at least 35 women that ranged from inappropriate and flirtatious to sexually explicit” over a two- to three-year period, according to an N.C. Supreme Court censure of his actions released in June.

The Judicial Standards Commission investigated the claims against him and provided the findings to the high court.

Court personnel “regularly observed that (Pool) was frequently on his cellphone while on the bench and would often ‘disappear’ during recesses and lunch breaks,” the censure from the Supreme Court says.

Pool’s judicial district included McDowell and Rutherford counties. Among the women to whom he sent sexually explicit messages was Jennifer Tierce. A grand jury last year indicted her on an extortion charge.

Tierce’s defense counsel is Krinn Evans, who has also announced he plans to run against District Attorney Ted Bell next year.

On the eve of his disciplinary hearing, the censure document says, Pool’s doctor diagnosed him with early-stage frontotemporal dementia. 

“Judge Pool apologizes profusely for his misconduct, and he asks for your prayers and forgiveness and hopes to move forward with life and to be of some benefit to those he loves so dearly in the communities he served,” said attorney Alan Schneider on Pool’s behalf. Schneider, an attorney at the Raleigh firm Cheshire Parker, represented Pool before the commission.

“This disease went undiagnosed until Judge Pool’s inappropriate behaviors became public, at which time, people who have known him for decades saw an unmistakable change from the upstanding man they knew to a person who uncharacteristically exhibited instances of a lack of good judgment and impulse control,” Schneider said.

State of investigations, prosecutions unclear

Pool may still be under federal investigation. In mid-2020, Bell said Pool was under investigation by a federal agency in a filing in the Tierce case.

When asked for comment on the status of the investigation, FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said, “Per Department of Justice policy, the FBI can neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.”

Similarly, Bell said he could not talk about the case. He cited an opinion from the N.C. State Bar that, among other things, answers attorney questions about ethical conundrums. Bell said he asked the state bar whether, in the midst of a heated election battle, he could respond to Evans’ claims against his office regarding the pending criminal matter against Tierce.

When asked whether the federal agency was investigating the extortion or the judge’s conduct, Bell said, “No, it was specific to his actions. Well, damn it, I probably can’t say that.”

Evans said he wants the Tierce case dropped.

“She’s scared, and rightfully so,” Evans said. “They charged her, pretty heavy-handed, for what amounts to an adulterous mistress.

“She did email the pictures of him ‘in flagrante’ to his daughter that prompted him to contact the sheriff’s department,” Evans said, using a Latin phrase meaning “in the midst of sexual activity.” 

Evans was not always Tierce’s attorney. Anthony Morrow represented her earlier, and he filed a lengthy brief in court regarding the case. District Attorney Bell said it contained multiple falsehoods and exaggerations by Tierce’s former attorney.

In his response, Bell cites a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry that details some of what Tierce said to Pool. She had asked Pool for $120 to pay her car insurance bill, Bell wrote in his filing. When Pool balked, the filing says, Tierce messaged him, “I was just thinking … I bet your wife would be pretty upset if she saw screenshots of some of the messages you sent me. Bet your daughters would be too. That would be a real shame, wouldn’t it.”

She then demanded he pay her $5,000 into a PayPal account and threatened to send screenshots “including the one of you ‘all inspired,’ as you like to call it,” to his wife, both daughters and local news media, Bell’s filing says.

Pool told the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office on May 8, 2019, that Tierce had attempted to extort him. From there, the Sheriff’s Office reported the incident to the SBI and the local district attorney, court documents say. 

The Judicial Standards Commission was also notified, as well as an unnamed federal agency, “which initiated an investigation as well.”

Pool resigned abruptly on Nov. 8, 2019. Four days later, a grand jury indicted Tierce for threatening to send evidence of sexually explicit texts and photographs to his daughters and the news media unless he paid her $5,000.

When asked if he planned to charge Pool with a crime, Bell demurred, saying he shouldn’t talk about that until the Tierce matter is resolved. He similarly would not respond when asked if he planned to review all of the cases Pool presided over while he had undiagnosed dementia or when his overtures to the women may have influenced his rulings.

While Bell said ethics considerations prevent him from saying much else, a detailed response filed last year in court says, “to date, the (SBI) investigation has not found any violation of criminal law by Pool.”

“The undersigned, as District Attorney, has a legal obligation to prosecute violations of the criminal laws of North Carolina,” Bell’s response said. “Further, not prosecuting a violation of the criminal laws of North Carolina could very well have been seen as an attempt to cover the matter up.”

However, according to Tierce’s current attorney, Evans, Pool’s credibility is in question because he was deceptive with the SBI and with the Judicial Standards Commission.

“Because of what we’ve learned with the Supreme Court, any statement she may have been induced to give as a result of interrogation based on what we now know is falsehoods, it’s my contention that that’s not a free and voluntary admission,” Evans said. 

“At one point, he promised he was going to leave his wife and run off with her.”

What happens to Pool’s old cases?

Evans said he has heard that one attorney filed a motion for appropriate relief in Juvenile Court that Pool presided over. The motion asks the court to review the case.

“There is enough concern reading through that censure that I was absolutely sure there was going to be a flurry of (motions for appropriate relief), and there hasn’t been until this point,” Evans said.

Jim Drennan, an adjunct professor with the UNC School of Government, said those who want to have a case reviewed that Pool presided over will have to file motions for each case.

“There is a mechanism to set aside a judgment, which can have the effect of reopening the case, or it can have the effect of disposing of the case without any further action,” Drennan said.

Because Pool was a District Court judge, the matters before him included Family Court, department of social services cases, misdemeanors or other minor civil cases.

“It’s time-consuming and cumbersome, but justice requires work,” Drennan said.

The state attorney general’s office does not have jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute criminal cases without a referral, spokesman Nazneed Ahmed said. District attorneys would have to refer cases to the AG’s office.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts, similarly, does not have authority to review a judge’s cases, said Graham Wilson, spokesman for the agency.

“A party can seek to invoke the jurisdiction of an appropriate court through appeal or motion for appropriate relief if those avenues are available under the law on a case-by-case basis,” Wilson said.

The next scheduled court date for Tierce is in September. Bell said he hopes to have the case resolved before November.

Pool’s attorney, Schneider, said brain scans have shown the judgment centers of his brain have “physically deteriorated significantly.”

“I’m sure many people have experiences in their family and friend circles with people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Schneider said. 

“These diseases are particularly insidious, not only in that they wreak physical neurological havoc on the patient, but also in that they can cause people to behave in ways that are entirely inconsistent with their character, as has been the case here.”

Kate Martin

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