NC candidate drops out after accusation he harassed domestic violence victim

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A state Senate candidate dropped out of his race this week following allegations that he used a woman’s most vulnerable moments in the courtroom to ask her on a date.

Last week, a woman came forward with screenshots from 2015 showing public defender Jason Minnicozzi asking her on a date after watching her break down in a North Carolina courtroom as she described the abuse she endured from an ex-boyfriend.

The woman rejected Minnicozzi’s advances. But he contacted her again last week.

“Well, he just sent me a friend request and it turns out the low-life is now running for NC Senate,” she wrote on Facebook. “After realizing his mistake, he immediately blocked me. Smart guy!”

For a week, the woman’s post and screenshots were public online. Neither Minnicozzi, a Democrat from Wilmington, nor the Democratic Party responded to them until Sunday, when Minnicozzi announced his decision to drop out of the Senate race citing fundraising problems.

The North Carolina Democratic Party said it was because of the woman’s allegations.

WHQR public radio in Wilmington first reported on the allegations and Minnicozzi’s decision to drop out. The News & Observer left phone and email messages for Minnicozzi but neither were returned.

The N&O doesn’t name alleged domestic violence victims.

“Harassment of any kind cannot be tolerated,” said NCDP Chair Bobbie Richardson, in a written statement. “Mr. Minnicozzi made the right decision to drop out of this race. New Hanover deserves a leader who serves with integrity and someone they can trust to do the job.”

Democrats are expected to name a new candidate to run against Republican Sen. Michael Lee in the November elections.

Harassment allegations

Minnicozzi first met the woman in 2015 after he was in a courtroom to defend another man accused of domestic violence and watched this woman tell her story.

Later that week, Minnicozzi sent the woman a message on Instagram: “Okay so I know this is unorthodox But I was one of the attorneys in court watching your trial the other day and wanted to ask you for your number but you left before the trial was over.”

The woman wrote back asking if Minnicozzi always picks up women at domestic violence trials, to which he replied, “I try not to.”

He told her why he was in the courtroom and added that he had a much better chance of winning his case because his client’s victim failed to show up. Minnicozzi told the woman she was very attractive and he thought he’d take a shot at messaging her.

“It’s very inappropriate, not gonna lie,” the woman wrote back. “I’m not even going to ask how you knew to spell my name.”

He then asked if a drink was out of the question.

Fast forward to June 21, when the woman received a friend request from Minnicozzi on Facebook. She wrote back, “Do you not remember how we met?”

She did. And she posted everything to her Facebook account to let the public know too.

The woman wrote in the comment section of her post that she had made a report to the N.C. State Bar when the incident happened in 2015 but never heard back from the agency.

Political career

Minnicozzi originally launched a campaign to run for Congress, but after lawmakers redrew the state Senate and House and U.S. House maps, Minnicozzi chose to run for state Senate District 7 instead.

He studied criminology at N.C. State and earned his law degree from Campbell University. He began his career as a prosecutor in Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties focusing on cases involving the sexual abuse of children. He later became a public defender in New Hanover County, according to a news release announcing his campaign for Congress.

Charles Keller, spokesman for the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the public defenders’ offices, said he could not comment on Minnicozzi’s situation with the woman because it was a personnel matter.

However, Keller did confirm that Minnicozzi remains employed with the New Hanover public defender’s office where he makes $84,025.

There are no past disciplinary orders or current pending hearings against Minnicozzi listed on the N.C. State Bar’s website.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.

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