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Avery County Woman, Jean Taylor-Todd, Sues Judge, DA for Sexual Discrimination, Several Other Charges

The following is a statement from Jean Taylor-Todd. The content has not been edited in any way by the High Country Press:

Representing herself and without a law degree, a North Carolina woman filed a lawsuit on March 7, 2012 in Avery County Superior Court against a judge and an assistant district attorney. Jean Taylor-Todd of Newland sued Judge William Leavell and Assistant District Attorney Britt Springer of the 24th Judicial District. The complaint alleges both federal and state causes of action, including, but not limited to, sexual discrimination, retaliation, and other violations of her civil rights, as well as state claims including malicious prosecution, false arrest, false imprisonment, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and obstruction of justice. These claims are all associated with her appearance in Avery County District Court on March 8, 2011 for a misdemeanor larceny charge which arose out of a civil action with a former tenant. Ms. Taylor-Todd says she was charged with contempt of court, handcuffed, and jailed during the trial after she asked for a mistrial in accordance with NCGS 15A-1061 for prejudice to defendant. The larceny charge was dismissed in Superior Court in July 2011, but the harm from that experience lingers. She says her life has not been the same since.

Ms. Taylor-Todd says she had planned to represent herself on the larceny charge until she spent the day of February 11, 2011 in Judge Leavell’s court where she saw him have a woman handcuffed to her chair for what appeared to be no good reason. In a hardship situation from the loss of her business, Taylor-Todd says she asked Boone attorney, Scott Casey to represent her pro bono, but Casey said he wouldn’t be able to tell her for sure until the day of the hearing. She says on the morning of the hearing Mr. Casey seemed favorable to helping her, then after the calendar call, there was a short recess in which Ms. Taylor-Todd saw Mr. Casey talking to Judge Leavell and Assistant District Attorney Britt Springer. When court re-convened, Scott Casey rushed over to Ms. Taylor-Todd and said he wouldn’t be able to help her that day because he had too many cases on the calendar.

With no prior criminal record, Ms. Taylor-Todd, a known civic leader and respected citizen was jailed on March 8, 2011 in a 12×12 county cell with four convicted felons. Despite her pleas and those of her brother and sister, she was not released nor did she have a bond hearing. During her incarceration, she was humiliated by being made to attend a legally mandated mediated settlement conference with a bank in inmate clothing, shackles, and handcuffs. After being jailed for eight days,  Attorney Scott Casey intervened with Judge Leavell on her behalf. She was taken in shackles, handcuffs, and inmate clothing before Judge Leavell to apologize. Following her apology, Ms. Taylor-Todd was released from jail and the contempt charges were dismissed.

After her jailing, Jean Taylor-Todd developed a panic disorder with agoraphobia associated with her fear of the courts and her fear of being further incarcerated. She became ill on the weekend prior to legal proceedings scheduled for Monday, March 28, 2011 and went to the local emergency room, faxing a medical excuse to the Court. Despite her rights to due process and equal protection of the law, when she failed to appear, Judge Marvin Pope heard her cases anyway, depriving her of her home and property and granting a judgment for a $20,000 credit card debt she had repeatedly denied.

Ms. Taylor-Todd filed additional pleadings to be heard on these matters in June and August 2011. She was evicted from her home in July 2011 without a hearing as required by state law. In a legal proceeding in August 2011, Judge Phil Ginn insisted on hearing her multiple motions in a single hearing and on dismissing her suits against two banks without ever hearing the merits of either case. (She had five cases on the calendar on the same day.) Her claims against the banks included alleged racketeering. Ms. Taylor-Todd timely appealed five cases to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Pursuant to state law, she qualified to file as an indigent, rather than having to pay the $250 filing fee for each of the five cases, but Judge Ginn issued an order forbidding her to do so.        

 Ms. Taylor-Todd is a former Sunday school teacher, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Avery/Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce, and a former member of the Avery County Planning Board. She is a writer and photographer when she is can spare the time from the ongoing legal proceedings to defend her rights, home, and property.    

According to court records, this action by Ms. Taylor-Todd follows a two-year battle in the Avery County courts in which she has attempted, without an attorney, to represent herself in defending her home and property from foreclosure, defending herself from an alleged large credit card debt she denies, and defending herself from the actions of a former tenant, Terrie Starr. Ms. Taylor-Todd believes her right to be heard has been suppressed in the Avery County courts and that many of her Constitutional and state legal rights have been violated. She further believes she may be retaliated against for filing the action against Leavell and Springer and for continuing to represent herself and for making her story public.   

Statements in Avery County court records suggest that Ms. Taylor-Todd suffered the loss of her small business in the downturn of the economy in 2008. She says she was denied help from North Carolina Legal Aid and pro bono services from local attorneys. Court affidavits reveal that she made attempts to work with the banks that brought actions against her. Without an attorney, she represented herself in actions that included United Community Bank, represented by The Van Winkle Law Firm of Asheville; HSBC Mortgage Services, Inc., represented by Shapiro & Ingle of Charlotte and Nelson-Mullins of Winston-Salem; and an alleged credit card debt brought by Attorney Reginald Yates of Charlotte.

The NC 24th Judicial District consists of the five counties of Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, Watauga, and Madison. According to prior accounts published in The Avery Post and The Avery Journal-Times, Judge Leavell, an elected official, left the bench in August 2011 “for health reasons.” Ms. Springer serves as an assistant district attorney, appointed by District Attorney Gerald Wilson. Ms. Taylor-Todd, according to public records, is a voter and taxpayer. She is a native of Avery County, who lived away for many years, prior to her return to the area in 1997.