by Bob Geary
What was Ruffin Poole's secret "privilege" that caused a Superior Court judge to rule that Poole need not testify before the State Board of Elections in its investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley's campaign finances? Was it attorney-client privilege? Some sort of executive privilege, since Poole was Easley's general counsel for a time? No, it was the privilege not to be forced to supply testimony if it might be self-incriminating -- a basic 5th Amendment right.
Poole, a fellow dubbed Easley's fixer by The News & Observer, went before the Board this afternoon -- the judge's ruling having been stayed by a Court of Appeals panel -- and was ordered to state the nature of the privilege he'd asserted to the judge or be sent to jail for contempt of the Board. OK, said Poole's lawyer Joe Zeszotarski, since you put it that way, the privilege was against self-incrimination. Poole would refuse to answer the Board's questions, Zeszotarski said. Whereupon the Board didn't ask him any, and Poole hustled out of the room without saying a word.
Remember, said Board Chair Larry Leake, asserting your 5th Amendment right not to testify isn't supposed to be taken as evidence that you're guilty of criminal conduct. Legally, that's true. But in the court of public opinion, especially when you're refusing to testify about what you did as a public servant in the governor's office, innocent's not the word that comes to mind either. Put Poole's plea together with this morning's news that Easley retained the services of crack Raleigh defense attorney Joe Cheshire, and the outlook for Easley is definitely not holiday bright.