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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Update: State Senator Lee responds to ethics complaint, criticizes press, opponent, and former county GOP chair

In a heated press conference, Senator Michael Lee responded to recent news about an ethics complaint filed against him. The North Carolina State Ethics Commission complaint alleges Lee wielded his political power as a state senator over lower-ranking local boards to benefit private clients.

Senator Michael Lee (center) addresses an ethic's complaint filed against him regarding his private conduct as a lawyer representing out-of-town clients before local boards. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Senator Michael Lee (center) addresses an ethic’s complaint filed against him regarding his private conduct as a lawyer representing out-of-town clients before local boards. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Update: 3:15 p.m. — A press release from State Senator Michael Lee presented letters from Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White.

Both letters refuted the ethics complaint made by William Shell. 

Saffo’s letter, which Lee read from during his press conference, stated in part, “Let me reiterate, Michael Lee has never pressured me to vote in any particular way. While at times Senator Lee and I have had policy disagreements, I can say that it has been my experience that he has kept his position in the legal community and his role in the North Carolina General Assembly separate.”

White’s letter, which Lee did not mention, reads in part, “The complaint is meritless and false, and by being filed a week before an election, should be a signal to the voters in this county of what is really going on here. From time to time we vote for and against, items of great interest to our community. Sometimes people are happy about the votes we take and other times they are not. But even though false things are said against public officials, more often these days, it is shameful that this type of thing is happening in our community and against a good person like Michael Lee, a week before an election.”

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After an ethics complaint was filed against Senator Michael Lee, running for re-election in New Hanover County’s District 9, the incumbent held a press conference to deny allegations about his use of public office for private gain.

Lee’s conference, which lasted all of 10 minutes, focused on criticisms of the press, in particular for not questioning the ethics of the man who filed the complaint, and for avoiding critical coverage of his political opponent, Democrat candidate Harper Peterson.

RELATED: Former New Hanover Republican Party chair files an ethics complaint against Michael Lee over development issues

News of the ethics complaint was released yesterday, just one week before the election. Lee called the claims, and the timing, a “stunt.”

The complaint — filed by former New Hanover County Republican Chairman William Shell and recently fired Wilmington Star-News freelancer Terry Reilly — alleges Lee imposed undue influence over local boards as a private lawyer representing several out-of-town developers.

“The complaint is filled with false statements and alleges this grand conspiracy between the Wilmington City Council, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman, the County Commission and all the people on the appointed boards and commissions that hear matters,” Lee said. “It accuses virtually every local elected and appointed official — Democrat, Republican, Unaffiliated– of violating the law.”

Lee brought up the disciplinary action by the North Carolina Bar Association against Shell for failing to attend a hearing in 1996 and lying to a client, Lee criticized the press for not including that information in coverage of the complaint.

Lee also criticized the press for not running stories on allegations that Peterson has faced or is currently facing tax problems, or on what Lee described as Peterson’s “horrible” single term as Wilmington’s mayor.

Bob McFeeters yells criticisms at Senator Michael Lee during Lee’s press conference responding to an ethics complaint filed against the sitting incumbent.

Read Lee’s full prepared statement below:

Senator Michael Lee’s prepared statement by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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