By Virginia Bridges, McClatchy Newspapers –
DURHAM, N.C. — The North Carolina State Bar is investigating whether an advocate for Crystal Mangum’s release engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
Sidney Harr, a retired physician and a co-founding member of the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong, is scheduled to appear before the State Bar’s Authorized Practice Committee on July 17. The committee investigates and acts upon allegations of unauthorized practice of law.
Mangum, 33, has been in jail since April 2011. She is charged with the murder of Reginald Daye, 46. Police found Daye with one stab wound in the torso on April 3, 2011, at Mangum’s apartment. She was charged with murder after Daye died April 13.
The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong contends a corrupt judicial system is punishing Mangum for accusing three Duke University lacrosse players of rape in 2006. The accusations were eventually found false, and the case was dismissed by state Attorney General Roy Cooper.
In April, Harr drafted three motions for Mangum. They sought to dismiss her murder charge, move the trial to another county, and remove Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith from the case. The filings, which are signed by Mangum, state they were filed “pro se,” or on her own behalf, but composed with assistance from Harr with the full knowledge that he is not an attorney and has no related training.
“You can’t disclaim the unauthorized practice of law simply by saying ‘I am not an attorney,’” said David Johnson, deputy counsel for the State Bar. According to the State Bar’s website, only active members of the organization may practice law. An individual may represent him or herself, but the law kicks in when someone “commits the unauthorized practice of law” for another person.
Harr said he didn’t know it was illegal to help in such situations and that he won’t do it again.
He compared it to giving someone with a fever an aspirin. “What I did was help someone, and it was not for any financial or monetary gain.”
Johnson said the investigation into Harr was opened after members of the media forwarded information they had received from the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong. The committee could send a letter telling Harr to cease the practice, refer the case for criminal prosecution as a Class 1 misdemeanor, or ask State Bar staff to seek an injunction, Johnson said.
Since Harr said he wouldn’t do it again, the committee will likely “take him at his word,” Johnson said.
In May, attorney Chris Shella successfully sought to be removed from Mangum’s case after filing a motion that indicated Mangum had provided information to the committee that he had told her to keep confidential.
“Moreover, these individuals have disclosed these documents to the general public along with the potential defense theory of the case,” Shella said in his motion to dismiss.
Woody Vann, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was appointed Mangum’s new attorney.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Harr filed three motions Mangum wrote and mailed to him.
In general, physically filing papers is not considered practicing law, though it could enter that realm if additional assistance was provided, Johnson said.
Mangum’s motions seek to have her bail reduced from $200,000 to $50,000. Two other filings argue that a larceny charge should be dismissed because the crime did not occur and the murder charge should be dismissed because she acted in self-defense.