A Marion woman pleaded guilty on Monday to felony extortion against former Chief District Judge Randy Pool, who presided over courts in McDowell and Rutherford counties.
Jennifer Morgan Tierce, 37, of Stroud Street, Marion, pleaded guilty to felony extortion on Monday in McDowell County Superior Court. In exchange for a guilty plea, Tierce received a prayer for judgment, meaning she will serve no jail time or probation. And although she has been found guilty, a prayer for judgment means she has been forgiven by the court. Judge Nathaniel Poovey handed down the sentence.
In the fall of 2019, Tierce was charged with one count of felony extortion. Tierce allegedly threatened to send copies of sexually explicit texts and photographs from conversations between Pool and herself to Pool’s family if he did not pay her $5,000. Also during the fall of 2019, Pool suddenly and unexpectedly announced his retirement from the bench after around 20 years of service.
Krinn Evans, the attorney for Tierce, made a statement on his Facebook page which in part reads, “I explained to the court that my client apologized early for her bad acts, and in taking responsibility for what has done, it led into an investigation into the behaviors of Mr. Pool — potentially protecting dozens of women from Mr. Pool’s future bad acts. I did refer to Mr. Pool as a predator and a cancer on the face of the judiciary. She (Tierce) can now go back to living her life sure in the knowledge that Mr. Pool will never be able to misuse his office against other women in the future.”
On Monday, Judge Poovey asked if the district attorney had ever offered Tierce an opportunity to plea, and a “prayer for judgment continued,” or PJC. This allows a defendant to plead guilty and go free and receive forgiveness from the court. It happens only when a judge officially approves allowing that for a defendant, according to Evans.
“The judge said it all when he said in his 18 years on the bench he had never given a PJC for a felony, but if there was one case that deserved it, it was this one,” said Evans to The McDowell News.
District Attorney Ted Bell also issued a statement about the prayer for judgment for Tierce.
“This was a good outcome to this case,” stated Bell. “Pool’s and Tierce’s sexual communications over those two weeks were completely consensual by both of them — both asked the other for sexual pictures, both sent sexual pictures, and both wrote extremely graphic messages to the other. However, the fact that it was consensual does not make it morally right, and Pool as a judge and a husband was wrong to engage in that behavior. After Pool refused to give her $120 for her car insurance Tierce sent multiple escalating extortion demands for $5,000, $7,000, and $10,000 or she was going to send the pictures to his family. She ultimately did send the pictures and copies of their conversations to both of Pool’s daughters and demanded money from them as well, who had nothing to do with this and are the true victims in this case. In fact, it’s mostly because Tierce brought the daughters into it and sent them demands for money that our office made the decision to charge.”
In June, the N.C. Supreme Court censured Pool for violations of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and “for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.”
A censure is a formal statement of severe disapproval or public condemnation.
By the recommendation of the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, the issue before this state Supreme Court was whether Pool, who served as a District Court judge, should be censured for violations of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, and pursuant to for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.
The violations made by Pool include:
Engaging in sexual misconduct while serving as and exploiting his position as chief judge of his judicial district through a pattern of predatory sexual advances toward numerous women in his community, many of whom were involved in matters pending in the district where respondent served as chief judge.
Demonstrating a pattern of failing to diligently discharge his judicial duties for the period from at least November 2016 until his retirement in November 2019.
Misusing the prestige of his judicial office to solicit assistance from local law enforcement relating to an attempted extortion.
Making material misrepresentations to law enforcement agents during the investigation of an attempt to extort money from him.
Making material misrepresentations to the Commission during an investigation.
Sending inappropriate electronic communications and exchange of nude photographs resulted in an extortion attempt by one woman, which led to an investigation by law enforcement agencies.
From November 2018 through May 2019, Pool communicated, via Facebook, through inappropriate messages with at least 16 additional women, often seeking photographs of them or sharing photographs of himself. In addition, respondent had ex parte discussions through Facebook regarding pending proceedings in his district.
The censure order states that Pool “had enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a judge of his district for almost twenty years.”
“As Chief District Court Judge, Respondent made a number of significant contributions to the administration of justice during his 13 years in that position,” the order states. “Upon being named Chief Judge, Respondent immediately instituted a Continuance Policy for his district that all judges followed and successfully eliminated significant back log in his district. Respondent also created a new Truancy Court for McDowell and Rutherford County at least twelve years ago where he and his colleagues volunteered their time after court to meet with parents, grandparents and students to emphasize and encourage students to stay in school, be present each day, and to work hard to get a good education. Respondent has also actively been engaged in his community ...“
Furthermore, the order from June states that Pool “has also undertaken significant efforts to determine the cause of his sexual misconduct and to address the problems in his personal life.”
Pool did not attend Monday’s hearing in the courtroom for McDowell County Superior Court but he was present at the courthouse.
Pool’s primary care physician conducted a physical examination in early October 2020 and ordered an MRI, which showed mild atrophy or shrinkage of the front and the left temporal lobes of his brain. An evaluation by a physician resulted in a diagnosis of early stage frontotemporal dementia, a disease which can manifest itself through a lack of control of sexual impulses, according to the censure order.
On Tuesday, Pool shared information with The McDowell News about this diagnosis of frontal variant Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m diagnosed with behavioral variant of dementia which my neurologist says likely led to the abnormal behaviors,” he said.
A person who has this condition is likely to show changes in their personality and behavior. They may lose their inhibitions and behave in socially inappropriate ways or without thinking. “This could include making insensitive or inappropriate comments or invading someone’s personal space, acting in a sexually inappropriate way, staring at strangers or being verbally or physically aggressive,” reads a document provided by Pool.
His neurologist is Dr. James R. Bateman III with Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem and a professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“I’ve discussed these findings with Mr. Pool,” reads a statement from Bateman. “For him, this means much the same in so far as he appears to have a brain disorder that could very plausibly explain his behavioral changes.”
Pool said he agreed with that statement.