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Jim Black

Office District Status
House Speaker N.C. House 100 Resigned
Party In Office Since Term Ends
Democrat 1982 2007
Level of Government  
N.C. House  
Date of Birth Birthplace Now Lives In
March 25, 1935 , NC Matthews, NC

Synopsis

A licensed optometrist, Black went into politics late in life, but eventually became one of the state's most powerful politicians. After serving two terms in the N.C. House of Representatives in the early 1980s, Black lost three campaigns in a row. In 1990, he was re-elected and soon moved into leadership. He served as speaker of the house a record-tying four terms, including a historic co-speakership with Republican Rep. Richard Morgan. Amid mounting criminal investigations, he resigned in early 2007, pleading guilty to a felony corruption charge the next day. He is currently serving time in a federal prison.

Trivia

He has been a licensed optometrist since 1962.

Endorsements

Biography

Marital Status
Married
Spouse
Betty
Children
Daughter, Deborah; son, James

Jim Black is a former speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. He resigned in February, the day before pleading guilty to a felony corruption charge. He is serving in a federal prison.

Political Career

Black, a licensed optometrist, began his political career in 1981, when he was elected to a state House seat representing Mecklenburg County. He served two terms, losing a re-election bid in 1984.

He lost comeback attempts in 1986 and 1988 but won the 1990 election. In 1995, he was selected House minority leader by his Democratic peers, a position he held for three years.

He was chosen as speaker of the House in 1999 and again in 2001.

In the 2002 election, Republicans won control of the House, 61-59. But shortly before the session began, Republican Rep. Michael Decker switched parties. 

After nearly a week of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats agreed to a historic co-speakership between Black and Rep. Richard Morgan.

When Democrats regained control in 2004, Black became speaker for a fourth term. He is tied with Liston B. Ramsey as the longest-serving state speaker.

Amid mounting criminal investigations in late 2006, he dropped out of the race for a fifth term as speaker. He resigned on Feb. 14, 2007.

Investigations

During his final years in office, Black and his associates were involved in several major investigations related to the creation of the state lottery, lobbying by the video poker industry and the co-speakership.

* Meredith Norris, a former legislative aide to Black, failed to register as a lobbyist while wining and dining lawmakers on behalf of lottery vendor Scientific Games. In 2006, she was found guilty of a misdemeanor lobbying law violation.

* Kevin Geddings, a Black appointee to the state lottery commission, failed to disclose a past business relationship with the head of Scientific Games. In 2007, he was sentenced to four years in prison and a $25,000 for five counts of mail fraud. He was also convicted on state charges.

* Rep. Decker pleaded guilty in 2006 to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting he left the Republican Party and supported Black for speaker in exchange for $50,000 and a legislative job for his son. He was sentenced to four years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

* Rep. Thomas Wright, one of his top lieutenants, was indicted on five felony counts of fraud and one of obstruction of justice for spending money solicited for a charity. The state House is considering expelling him.

U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney looked into Black's dealings as part of video poker probe "Operation Double Black Diamond," and the State Board of Elections looked into his finances after a complaint from Democracy North Carolina.

Black denied wrongdoing during and after the investigations, although he eventually pleaded guilty to taking payoffs from three chiropractors.

Chiropractors' Cash

Between 2002 and 2005, Black illegally received $29,000 from chiropractors Fletcher Keith and Thomas Brown of Charlotte and Steve Willen of Greensboro, according to court records

* In February of 2002, the chiropractors gave Black $8,000 in cash at a private dining club in Charlotte.

* In December, they gave him $10,000 in cash at the same dining club.

* On Feb. 14, 2004, two chiropractors gave him $4,000 in cash in the bathroom of a restaurant in Concord. At the same event, the third gave him a check for $4,000 that he deposited into his personal bank account.

* On Dec. 3, 2005, a chiropractor gave Black another $3,000 in cash in the restroom of the Capital Grille in Charlotte.

In 2005, Black pushed for legislation that would lower insurance co-payments for chiropractors. He succeeded by inserting language in the state budget, avoiding public debate. The provision cost the state's largest insurer $8 million.

In exchange for cooperating with investigators, the three chiropractors will not be prosecuted. They also will not face disciplinary action from the N.C. Board of Chiropractic Examiners.

Black and Decker

In late 2002 or early 2003, Black met with Rep. Decker at an International House of Pancakes off Interstate 85 in Salisbury.

According to testimony from an agent with the State Bureau of Investigations, the two went into the bathroom, where Decker told Black he would switch parties for $50,000 and a legislative job he could give to someone else.

Throughout that year, Black gave Decker checks from BellSouth's political action committee PAC and the N.C. State Optometric Society PAC, as well as cash, for a total of $42,050.

In his capacity as co-speaker, he also allowed Decker to hire his son as a legislative assistant for $46,000 a year.

After the legislature adjourned in 2003, Decker switched back to the Republican Party, but he failed to win the 2004 GOP primary. Black then worked with the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources to create a tourism job for him. 

Career Ends

After the 2006 elections, seven candidates considered challenging Black for the job of speaker.

In December, Black dropped out of the race, saying he did not need "to be speaker forever." Democrats eventually selected Rep. Joe Hackney, who had sponsored a number of ethics reform bills the previous session.

On Feb. 14, 2007, Black resigned from the state House.

The next day, he pleaded guilty in federal court, admitting that he took $29,000 from the three chiropractors, a felony under gratuity statutes. As part of the plea, he agreed to cooperate with investigators. 

Court Cases 

On Feb. 20, he entered an Alford plea in Wake County Superior Court to bribing Decker and obstructing justice, both felonies under state law. He did not admit guilt to those charges, but said that a jury would likely find him guilty.

On March 27, the House voted to rescind the restriction on insurance companies charging higher fees for chiropractors.

On July 11, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle sentenced Black to 63 months in federal prison and a $50,000 fine. With good behavior, he could reduce his sentence by nine and a half months. 

During sentencing on state charges on July 31, Wake County prosecutors presented evidence that lobbyist Don Beason illegally loaned Black $500,000 in the summer of 2000, which Black then put into his campaign account to help raise money.

Black argued that the money was a bridge loan for a real estate transaction.

On the witness stand, Black also admitted to taking an illegal $2,000 cash payment from Charlotte strip club owner David "Slim" Baucom. He said he also gave $8,000 to then-Rep. Alex Warner, a Fayetteville Democrat.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens sentenced Black to a $1 million fine and $54,000 in restitution, but suspended additional jail time provided that the former speaker pays the fine by December.

"I am giving him the opportunity to pay his debt to North Carolina," Stephens said

Black reported to federal prison officials on July 30, 2007. He was sent to a prison in Lewisburg, Pa.

Compiled from research and reporting by Susan Ebbs, Dan Kane, Andy Curliss and Ryan Teague Beckwith. 

Occupation

Optometrist
Dr. James Black & Associates






Community Involvement:
Not specified.

Contact Info







Education

A.B.
Lenoir Rhyne College
Bachelor of Science
Southern College of Optometry
Doctorate
Southern College of Optometry

Military

Not specified.

Links










N&O Profile:









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