Congressman Madison Cawthorn was able to dodge a serious speeding charge in Buncombe County by making a plea deal with District Attorney Todd Williams just one day before the State of Georgia alerted Williams’s office that Cawthorn had been convicted in 2019 of speeding and driving with an expired tag, Williams told Asheville Watchdog.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC11) Credit: Getty

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. 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 and merely pay a fine.

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 a plea deal. The more serious charge could have resulted in Cawthorn’s license being revoked. 

Williams said he learned of the Georgia record one day after the plea deal, and 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, for driving with a revoked driver’s license and crossing the center line. 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