Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Wake DA’s candidacy

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman addresses a John Locke Foundation audience in March 2017.
  • A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman's candidacy in the 2022 election.
  • Republican attorney David Blackwelder lacked legal standing to bring the lawsuit, according to U.S. District Judge James Dever. The case was also moot.

Nearly two months after Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman won re-election to her job, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging her candidacy in the 2022 election.

Republican attorney David Blackwelder, a former candidate for Wake County sheriff, had filed suit against the State Board of Elections in August. Blackwelder argued that the board should have removed Freeman from the Democratic primary election ballot. Blackwelder said Freeman had failed to sign the necessary paperwork to become an official candidate.

Blackwelder wanted to see Freeman’s primary challenger, Damon Chetson, listed as the Democratic candidate on the November ballot. The state elections board’s refusal to take that action violated Blackwelder’s First and 14th Amendment constitutional rights, according to the complaint.

U.S. District Court Judge James Dever dismissed Blackwelder’s suit Thursday. Dever ruled that Blackwelder lacked standing to sue and that the case was moot.

The judge determined that Blackwelder had missed state deadlines for election disputes. Blackwelder waited until July, two months after the primary, to challenge Freeman’s candidacy and the May election result.

“Blackwelder’s challenge to the NCBOE initially evaded review due to his own self-inflicted error — his untimely challenge,” Dever wrote. “If Blackwelder followed the procedures to challenge a candidate and file an election protest, the NCBOE would have heard his challenge and addressed it through the NCBOE’s procedures for election challenges.”

“Although future issues may occur concerning a dispute over the placement of particular candidates on primary and general election ballots, the NCBOE provides procedures to review such issues,” Dever added. “Moreover, Blackwelder does not argue that this court should displace any person duly elected. Thus, because the election has passed and the court cannot grant any effective relief and no exceptions to the mootness doctrine apply, the court dismisses as moot Blackwelder’s action.”

The plaintiff also lacked standing to sue, Dever explained. “As for injury-in-fact, Blackwelder alleges … that the NCBOE’s disparate treatment of candidates based on their political party affiliation has harmed his constitutional rights,” the judge wrote. “If Blackwelder has any injuries, however, those injuries are self-inflicted. Blackwelder’ s candidate challenge was untimely, and between his untimely candidate challenge and the November 2022 general election, Blackwelder had ample time to bring a timely general election challenge. Accordingly, Blackwelder’s naked assertions and his own mistakes and lack of action have not demonstrated injury in fact caused by any action of the NCBOE.”

Blackwelder’s “alleged injuries are not redressable by the remedies he seeks,” Dever added. “Blackwelder primarily seeks declaratory relief, requesting that the court direct the NCBOE to remove Freeman from the ballot and place the runner-up Democratic nominee, Damon Cheston [sic], on the ballot. The court has no authority to add a replacement candidate to a state election ballot after another candidate is disqualified. Under North Carolina law, if a candidate such as Freeman were disqualified, only the district executive committee of the candidate’s party may select a replacement candidate.”

Freeman defeated Chetson with 59% of the vote in the May 17 Democratic primary. She defeated Republican Jeff Dobson with 62% of the vote in the Nov. 8 general election.