Congressman Madison Cawthorn was able to dodge a serious speeding charge in Buncombe County by making a pre-trial plea deal with District Attorney Todd Williams just days before the State of Georgia alerted Williams’s office that Cawthorn’s license had been suspended as the result of a 2019 conviction for speeding and driving with an expired tag, Williams told Asheville Watchdog.
Meanwhile, Cawthorn was a no-show in Polk County court on Monday to face the second of three charges he’s collected in recent months for speeding and other alleged driving violations.
Last month Cawthorn, through a lawyer, pleaded guilty to a reduced speeding charge in Buncombe County after striking a plea deal with Williams and paying a fine. Cawthorn had been ticketed for driving 89 miles per hour in a 65 m.p.h. zone near Swannanoa in October. In return for the guilty plea, Williams agreed to reduce the charge to traveling just 74 miles per hour, a lesser infraction that allowed Cawthorn to keep his license without going to trial as scheduled on March 4.
But had he been aware of Cawthorn’s conviction in the December 2019 case in Clayton County, Georgia, Williams told Asheville Watchdog, he would not have agreed to offer the 26-year-old congressman the plea deal. The more serious charge could have resulted in Cawthorn facing up to 20 days in jail and fines up to $200.
Although the Georgia speeding citation occurred in December 2019, it wasn’t settled until August 2021 when the conviction was entered and Cawthorn’s license was revoked. But, according to Williams, the State of Georgia didn’t report the revocation to North Carolina until February, after the pre-trial deal had already been reached with Williams’ office.
Williams said that when he learned of the Georgia revocation he inquired about reopening the case. But, he said, because Cawthorn had already paid the fine, the case was closed. Williams said the plea deal took advantage of what he called a “legal fiction” in North Carolina law where the driver can blame a faulty speedometer and receive leniency.
In the Polk County case, Cawthorn was ticketed in January for driving 87 miles per hour in a 70 m.p.h. zone, and ordered to face the charge in court April 18. But his lawyer, Gabrielle Valentine, appeared on Cawthorn’s behalf and successfully asked that the case be postponed until June 2.
Valentine offered no reason for the requested delay and commented later that it was “routine.” Cawthorn’s press secretary, Luke Ball, did not respond to Asheville Watchdog’s request for an explanation of the delay and whether Cawthorn planned to contest the charge.
The postponement means the case will not be heard until after the May 17 primary election, where the incumbent Cawthorn faces seven challengers in the Republican race to represent western North Carolina in Congress.
Cawthorn still faces a third court date for a charge on March 3 near Shelby in Cleveland County. That alleged violation occurred shortly after North Carolina had been notified that Cawthorn’s license had been revoked for speeding in Georgia. The state trooper stopped the congressman for swerving across the highway centerline, but charged him only with driving with the revoked license. That case is scheduled to be heard May 6, just days before the May 17 GOP primary.
The Cleveland County charge is a misdemeanor criminal offense that could result in a jail sentence of up to 20 days, as well as a fine of up to $200. — Tom Fiedler