New Hanover County School Board Hires Political Hardliners to Provide ‘Non-partisan’ Legal Guidance

by | Mar 27, 2024 | News Analysis, Commentary and Opinion

Is the New Hanover County School Board’s Due Diligence Lacking? Or, are they Practicing Unethical Political Patronage?

In a recent meeting to approve work contracts, the New Hanover County School Board solidified their decision to retain two adjunct law firms. Their stated aim, according to Board member Stephanie Kraybill, was to secure legal counsel that would offer “non-partisan ” guidance. However, far from achieving this goal, the Board looks to have politicized their legal guidance even further. One selected law firm is led by an attorney with deep Republican connections. In some Republican Party circles, he’s thought of as a GOP fixer. Conversely, the other firm has completely woven DEI ideology into its brand identity — their website lists a plethora of supported social justice causes.

The Back Story

For months, left-leaning board members have been wrangling about New Hanover County Schools’ (NHCS) current law firm, Vogel Law Firm PLLC (managed by Jonanthan Vogel) and the firm’s contracted attorneys, Jonathan Sink and Leigha Sink (husband and wife). When the Sinks parted from Vogel in December (2023) under acrimonious circumstances — about money owed — some board members prejudicially aligned themselves with the Sinks.

During the January 3, 2024 Agenda Review Meeting, concerns were raised about Vogel’s capacity to handle the workload due to the departure of two attorneys — the Sinks — and the perceived “partisan” nature of his advice. Despite Vogel’s reassurances of his firm’s and team’s adeptness, doubts persisted about the impartiality of his counsel.

(Below) Video of Jonathan Vogel, of Vogel Law Firm, providing an explanation of the capabilities of his firm in response to concerns presented by some NHCS board members.
Discussion intensified when Board Member Stephanie Kraybill criticized Vogel’s association with the Carolina Academy Leadership Network (CALN), suggesting his alliance with this organization imparted a conservative bias to his counsel. She said,
“…but I would also like to voice the concern that I believe there is too much of a partisan twist with our counsel. And, he is involved in the Carolina Academy of Leadership Network which is basically a John Locke Foundation — very partisan organization — hosted a private party and one of our school board association event[s]…

“…The thought was: our legal council needs to be non-partisan. …he is exclusionary to the point that it’s very partisan…. I just want us all to be cognizant of that, that we need a non-partisan, non-partial attorney to advise us, not to insert into our business matters.”

(Below) NHCS Board member Stephanie Kraybill at the January 3, 2024 NHCS Agenda Review Meeting responding to Vogel’s comments on the viability of his law firm.
Then, February’s meeting saw an unexpected proposal from board member Josie Barnhart to redirect some legal duties, particularly those concerning Exceptional Children (EC) matters, to either Sink Law Firm, PLLC, or Poyner Spruill LLP.

In a 4-3 vote, Barnhart’s motion passed, with all votes coming from the left-of-center Board members. Bradford, Mason, and Wildeboer voted ‘no.’  This decision, facilitated by Barnhart’s proposal, should raise concerns about bypassing the standard procedure of scrutiny and evaluation associated with the “Request for Proposal” process.

NHC School Board Approves Law Firm Contracts Without Proper Review

During the regularly scheduled March Board meeting, the board took the final step and approved contracts with Sink Law Firm, PLLC, and Poyner Spruill LLP. Board members Bradford and Mason voted against the approval of the agreements, citing the late delivery of the documents just before the meeting, which did not allow enough time for a proper review.

(Below) Video of NHCS Board members Pat Bradford and Melissa Mason, at the March 12, 2024 NHCS Board Meeting objecting to the forced vote on legal contracts without having time to read them.

Trust Erosion Continues with Über-Political Law Firms Now Representing NHCS

The juxtaposition of hiring both Sink and Poyner Spruill law firms raises questions about board members’ commitment to impartiality, transparency, and due diligence. As the county’s second largest employer, New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) needs better leadership than this.

Are These New Law Firms Merely Political Hires?

Over the last few months, every opportunity has been taken by liberal school board members to opine about the weaknesses of the Vogel Law Firm. When the time came to reassign the workload to two other law firms, nothing was discussed about the possible weaknesses of these new firms. What was ranted during the Board’s public forum about Vogel pales in comparison to that which a quick Google search reveals about these new firms.

Sink Law Firm, PLLC

Sink Law Firm is headed by Jonathan Sink and his wife, Leigha Sink. A simple internet search indicates Jonathan is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican Party cohort. His employment history includes the who’s who of the North Carolina GOP establishment. Positions held include:

  • Deputy Chief of Staff for NC House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore (R);
  • General Counsel to Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson (R);
  • Executive Director for the North Carolina Republican Party under Michael Whatley (R).
(Below) A Facebook post from GOP Chairman Mike Whatley congratulating Jonathan Sink on being named Gaston County Attorney.
Congratulations to Jonathan Lee Sink Chairman Whatley Facebook

Tim Moore Cronyism?

Despite Jonathan Sink’s relatively brief tenure in these political positions, his GOP connections remain strong. This is evidenced by the business address listed for Sink Law Firm on their website: 305 E. King St., Kings Mountain, NC, which, coincidently, is the office location of Tim Moore, marked by a prominent sign for “Tim Moore Attorney At Law” — refer to the following Google Maps street view screenshot.

(Below) Street view screenshot, from Google Maps, of Tim Moore’s law office. Notably, Sink Law Firm, PLLC lists this address on their website as their office location.
Sink Law Firm is same office as Tim Moore's

House Speaker Tim Moore: Political Patronage & Sex-for-favors Allegations

In North Carolina, NC House Speaker Tim Moore stands out for his keen ability to navigate and influence state politics through strategic appointments and political favors.

Two high-profile instances of this have come to mind in the last few years: the unseating of Holly Grange and the Favors-for-Sex lawsuit.

A noteworthy example of Moore’s political maneuvering involves the case of Holly Grange, a former NC State House representative and esteemed Army veteran. Following her dissenting vote on Moore’s preferred nominee for chancellorship of University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), Grange found herself removed from her position on the UNCW Board of Trustees — a House bill was passed to remove her. This incident, as reported by WHQR, highlighted the use of political power to enforce party loyalty.

“I was removed simply because the Speaker of the House could not secure the chancellor’s position for his chosen person,” Grange was quoted as saying in a WHQR report.

Furthermore, Moore faced scandalous allegations last summer when a legal complaint filed by Scott Lassiter accused Moore of manipulating Lassiter’s wife to engage in unethical behavior to secure her position as a mid-level state employee. The complaint, which cited recordings as evidence, portrayed a disturbing picture of the extent to which political leverage may have been used to influence. The allegation, as laid out in the public filing, was that Moore pressed Lassiter’s wife to have group sex with men seeking Moore’s political favor.

(Below) A section from Scott Lassiter’s legal complaint alleges that House Speaker Moore exchanged political favors for sexual acts.
Group sex to keep job
(Below) The entire complaint against House Speaker Tim Moore. Click on image to open PDF file.
2023 Scott Lassiter v Tim Moore claim

With Tim Moore’s alleged history of quid pro quo, the fact that School Board members hastily replaced Vogel with Sink Law Firm on EC legal issues without an RFP or RFQ process, and not allowing time for board members to review his contract, the question is raised:

Was the hiring of Jonathan Sink’s firm a political favor for someone at “state-level”?

The manner in which Sink Law Firm was selected presents telltale signs associated with unethical political patronage.

Poyner Spruill LLP

The second law firm NHCS Board voted to hire was Poyner Spruill, the runner-up firm during the bidding process in 2023, when NHCS was reconsidering Tharrington Smith. It’s hard to believe this “conservative” Board would use them now when they’re moving the school district away from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) ideology.

If Board members were attempting to seek “non-partisan” legal advice, they were either lying to taxpayers or they didn’t conduct the due diligence expected of them. A review of  Poyner Spruill’s high-profile DEI webpage  shows the extent to which their Leftist branding has gone. This page lists undertakings by the firm in the name of DEI, which include:

  • A social justice law scholarship, awarded to “under-represented” students at Wake Forest University School of Law.
  • Hosting “Lunch and Learn” sessions covering topics such as a “Voices Panel” during Black History Month, a “Women’s Panel” for Women’s Equality Day, and “Informational sessions” covering LGBTQ+ identities.

(Below) A screenshot of Poyner Spruill’s webpage on their social justice law scholarship.

Social Justice Law Scholarship - Poyner Spruill
If Poyner Spruill were educators in the NHCS school system, it’s likely they would be in violation of the district’s new Section Z in the professional conduct policy.

(Below) The NHCS Section Z from the school district’s professional conduct policy.

NHCS Standards of Professional Conduct Policy 7205 Sec Z

Watch NHCS’s Discussions on these Law Firms in Full

The full January 3rd, 2024 Agenda Review Meeting discussion on Vogel Law Firm.
(Below) the full Febraury 6, 2024 NHCS Board Meeting discussion on Vogel Law Firm.
(Below) the full March 12, 2024 NHCS Board Meeting discussion on the adoption of adjunct law firms’ service agreements.
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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for attempting to open up and expose this “can of worms” that the powers that be would like to see covered up and have few people learn of.


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