Source: The News & Observer
A UNC-Chapel Hill administrator who worked on a failed multi-million dollar deal with the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) over the university’s Silent Sam Confederate statue is set to become a Superior Court judge, according to The News & Observer.
Clayton Somers was named a Superior Court judge thanks to a bill that was passed in October. The only thing the bill addresses is the appointment of dozens of board and judge appointments throughout the state. Somers was appointed by his former boss, House Speaker Tim Moore. Somers previously served as the speaker’s chief of staff.
The N&O reported that most Superior Court judges are elected by voters and some special Superior Court judges are usually appointed by the governor, not the legislature. Republicans were able to appoint dozens of their picks for judicial and various board positions because of a provision they put in the state budget bill that allowed 10 additional special Superior Court judges to be appointed, with the General Assembly making those appointments.
Not only will Somers be appointed by his former boss, but he will also be given the power to serve on panels that review the validity of laws passed by the Republican legislature if and when those laws are challenged in court. The panels are appointed by Paul Newby, the state’s right-wing Supreme Court chief justice.
Somers’ employment history indicates that he’s either very lucky or there are powerful forces in his corner. The N&O reported that Somers was Moore’s chief of staff from 2015 to 2017 before he was named secretary of the university and vice chancellor of public affairs at UNC. Ex-UNC Chancellor Carol Folt created the position for Somers in 2017, under the guise of improving the university’s relations with state and federal government.
Somers then moved to an administrative position in UNC’s athletics department in 2022. He is still employed in that role, according to a UNC official. The position was, once again, newly created just before he got the job. The vice chancellor role he formerly served in no longer exists.
While it’s unlikely that most people have ever heard of Somers, they should be familiar with his work. As vice chancellor, he was part of the group that negotiated the controversial deal between the UNC System and the North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the 100-plus-year-old Confederate monument.
At first, the deal involved the UNC System paying SCV $74,999 to discourage them from suing UNC and restrict them from holding events on any UNC System campus. That deal, which was eventually overturned by a judge, was worked out in private and only involved a few people, The N&O reported.
SCV used the money to buy the rights to the statue from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that built the monument on campus in the early 1900s. After SCV obtained the rights to Silent Sam, a UNC Board of Governors committee approved a settlement agreement that would have given SCV the statue as well as access to a $2.5 million trust to pay for “the care and preservation” of the monument.
Somers’ role in the deal was not particularly appreciated by UNC-Chapel Hill’s leadership.
“Clayton worked directly with members of the Board of Governors on the disposition of the monument and not on my behalf,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told the Daily Tar Heel in 2021.
Judge Allen Baddour, who originally approved the settlement, voided the agreement and dismissed the case three months later, according to The N&O.
According to the UNC System salary database, Somers is listed with the title of “administrative director” and is earning $362,874 per year. The man who keeps finding himself falling into jobs seemingly invented just for his benefit will begin his third such job, as a Superior Court judge, on Jan. 1, 2024. He is slated to serve on the court until 2031.
Though none of Somers’ recent positions have anything to do with the law, he did earn a law degree from Wake Forest University and had previously served as general counsel for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association from 2012 to 2014.