Cooper-appointed Gaston County judge caught removing campaign signs

Image from video taken of Gaston County judge removing signs from polling precinct.

RALEIGH — A judge in Gaston County was caught on camera removing campaign signs and putting them in the trunk of his vehicle. 

In a cease-and-desist letter sent to Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell IV on Oct. 31, the North Carolina Republican Party (NCGOP) demanding he return political signs he was observed removing from early voting locations and near the Gaston County Board of Elections on Oct. 28 by Gaston County’s Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Fletcher. 

The signs read “Jesse Caldwell is a proud Democrat” and refer to remarks made by Caldwell to the Gaston Gazette In March of this year. 

“I am proudly running as a Democrat, but I’m more importantly running as a judge, who believes that partisan politics have no place in his decision-making and who believes that all judicial races should be nonpartisan,” Caldwell told the paper at the time. 

Caldwell was not only spotted removing some of the signs the next day, but his actions were caught on camera. 

“As the video and screenshots show, you clearly intended to deprive Mr. Fletcher of his property as you placed his sign in the trunk of a car and returned to electioneering in the parking lot,” wrote NCGOP’s legal counsel Philip Thomas. 

Images of Caldwell removing the signs and taking them to his car are included as exhibits. 

The letter goes on to say Fletcher tried to discuss the matter with Caldwell instead of having to file charges.  According to the letter, Caldwell responded with “I’d love to see the magistrate that brought those charges.”  

Thomas also wrote, “It appears that you believe yourself to be above the law, but as put by President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago: “No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it.” 

The letter then cites the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2.A, which in part states “[a] judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself/herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” 

“The North Carolina Republican Party and the Gaston County Republican Party hereby insist that you immediately cease and desist in your unlawful removal of their property, including but not limited to campaign signs,” Thomas wrote in closing. “We demand that you immediately return Mr. Fletcher’s property, the sign that you stole from the Gaston County Board of Elections on October 29, 2022. The North Carolina Republican Party and the Gaston County Republican Party intend to pursue consequences for your unlawful behavior and abuse of power to the full extent of the law. You are not above the law.” 

In June 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper appointed the 37-year-old Caldwell to complete his father’s term on the bench who had reached the state’s mandatory retirement age of 72. 

Caldwell is the only Democrat running in Gaston County. His opponent is Republican Justin Davis, a former prosecutor who is now an attorney with a private practice. Davis has also served on the Gaston County School Board.