On Tuesday, August 28, many people in courtroom 1-C of the Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro expected the trial of the century but they didn’t get anything even close – in fact, they didn’t even get a trial at all.
In one of the most anti-climactic area court battles in recent history, an assault charge that Summerfield Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram filed against fellow Summerfield Town Councilmember Dena Barnes was dropped after the two parties reached an agreement that called for Barnes to apologize to Pegram.
Barnes did apologize and the case has been dismissed – though warring political factions in Summerfield still have plenty left to fight about, including a new petition-based effort to reshape the way the town is governed.
Pegram filed the charge of “simple assault” with the Guilford County magistrate’s office on Thursday, May 17, claiming that Barnes assaulted her during a Monday, April 23 closed session of the Summerfield Town Council.
That closed session was held to discuss the highly publicized removal of former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck from the six-person council. Rotruck is still fighting a legal and political battle to retain that seat, which remains vacant.
At that closed session, Pegram pulled out a hand-held recorder and attempted to record the meeting. Pegram claims that, when she let it be known she was going to record the session, an angry Barnes forcefully grabbed the recorder from her hand and, in that struggle, caused injury to her.
Pegram filed an incident report with the Town of Summerfield regarding the altercation, and then later filed the assault charge with the magistrate’s office.
On the morning of August 28, parties on both sides were gearing up for a big court battle. Pegram had brought a recording of the closed session and a transcript of that recording. Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham was there along with the rest of the Summerfield Town Council. Town administrators and interested residents of Summerfield also sat in the courtroom
Since the case involved Barnes, the wife of Sheriff BJ Barnes, a judge from outside of Guilford County had been brought in to hear the case – however, in the end, there was no case to hear. By 10:30 a.m., the two sides had reached the agreement that Barnes would apologize.
Barnes did so quickly and quietly. The apology was only audible to people who were very near the two women. Barnes began the apology by saying that she was sorry if she had offended Pegram that night when she took the recorder and Barnes added a few other words. Whatever she said was enough for Pegram, who then told Barnes, “I accept your apology.”
Later, Pegram said she was pleased with the outcome.
“That’s all I ever wanted from her,” she said.
Summerfield Town Attorney Bill Hill was in the courtroom conversing with the attorneys and, afterward, some Summerfield residents were questioning why Hill was there acting as an attorney since this was a matter between Pegram and Barnes; the Town of Summerfield was not a party.
Rotruck was not at the courthouse but he did weigh in on the matter immediately after hearing the resolution. He said Barnes’ apology was an admission that an incident with the recorder did take place and he added that, until that time, some councilmembers had been claiming that it never happened.
Rotruck also questioned Hill’s participation in the proceedings.
“He better not bill the town for that,” Rotruck said of Hill.