Big trial no laughing matter, except for when it was

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

Being assigned to cover a days-long trial like last week’s Lewis vs. Rapp libel case at the Brunswick County Courthouse is a mixed bag, for sure.

On one side of the courtroom, you have a rare, fascinating case involving our own Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola M. Lewis, who for nearly three years has been relentlessly pursuing her day(s) in court as a plaintiff seeking justice against libel.

The four-day trial, which launched Jan. 22 with jury selection, may have meant different things to different people, but boring wasn’t one of them—except for the juror who nodded off on Day 2 and had to be prodded awake by the bailiff.

Where intense testimony is involved, all trials have their tedium, but this one overall was a don’t-miss.

First thing Tuesday morning, the case launched with the usual back-and-forth pre-trial debate among opposing attorneys and presiding Superior Court Judge F. Lane Williamson about what would and would not be allowed. This continued well into lunchtime (tedium).

Visiting Judge Williamson of Mecklenburg County quickly presented himself as a down-to-earth guy who didn’t hold back from expressing himself when things started to get on his nerves.

If the as-yet-unseated jury were impaneled “by some miracle” that afternoon, Williamson said he would be extraordinarily pleased yet surprised.

By Wednesday morning, most of the jury had been seated with just a little more weeding out to be done.

The defense excused four potential jurors, but five people—count ’em, five—walked out of the courtroom. The trusty bailiff was summarily summoned to go out into the hall and fetch back the non-dismissed juror, whether she liked it or not.

“Don’t get any ideas back there,” Williamson warned the other jurors.

The remaining juror interviews included a woman who said she had moved to Brunswick County from New Jersey, “where everybody comes from,” she added, drawing laughter.

Does this retiree-from-the-Garden-State ever tune into the news, she was asked?

“Not really—I watch the news before ‘Jeopardy’—that’s about it,” she confessed.

Another potential juror had once heard that her great-aunt had married into the Rabon family and that state Sen. Bill Rabon—one of the parties of debate in this case—was a distant cousin.

There was a man named Rabon—no direct relation that he knew of to Sen. Rabon—and he had never met him.

In Brunswick County, it’s a challenge finding 12 people who don’t have a local name or who don’t have at least distant-cousin ties of some sort to local names—unless you’re from New Jersey, maybe.

Did any of these jurors know former district attorney Rex Gore, Sheriff John Ingram or his employees, any magistrates, current district attorney Jon David or his employees, employees of the Superior Court Judge, Dr. Bill Rabon—or have access to Facebook or other online social sites and newspapers, plaintiff attorney Lonnie Williams asked.

(The less you know, the better your chances of becoming a seated juror.)

“Yes, sir, I got on Twitter, but I don’t know how to use it,” one woman said.

By 11:10 a.m., attorney Williams announced the plaintiff, same as the defense a little earlier, was content with the new jurors.

After a brief break, Judge Williamson said the trial would begin with evidence and orientation.

It was a miracle—“quicker than I anticipated,” he said.

Just two-and-a-half more days to go.

For those big details, flip back to page 1A of this week’s Beacon.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.