In a rare move, the NC Attorney General’s office has authorized former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck to bring suit against Summerfield Town Councilmember Dianne Laughlin – who was seated as Rotruck’s replacement in October after he was removed from that board in April 2018. The decision means Rotruck can challenge Laughlin’s status as a town council member and, if victorious, take that seat back and hold it while the appeal of his residency case is being heard in the NC Court of Appeals.
The rare “quo warrento” legal filing challenging Laughlin was presented to her on Friday, Jan. 4 and the matter will be heard in Guilford County Superior Court.
Rotruck’s attorney, Marsh Prause, with the Winston-Salem firm of Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, said the law requires the trial take place “quickly,” but he added that, as of yet, no court date has been set.
A Rotruck victory in court would mean that Laughlin would be off the Summerfield Town Council and Rotruck would be back on. The battle for that seat was the cause of multiple lawsuits, arguments and even assault claims in 2018 for the warring community of Summerfield.
Prause said the suit is being brought against Laughlin rather than against the Town of Summerfield because that’s what the law requires. He said a quo warrentois a means “to try title to an elected position,” and he added that the action had to be filed within 90 days of an elected official taking office. He said it’s a very rare proceeding.
Prause said that, in some cases, the Attorney General’s office may bring suit itself for actions, but in other cases, such as this one, it essentially “deputizes” a private individual such as Rotruck to bring a suit.
The court filing, which was submitted on Thursday, Jan. 3, states that “Plaintiff Todd F. Rotruck acting as a private relator duly authorized to bring this civil action in the name of the State of North Carolina…complains of Defendant Dianne Laughlin as follows…”
It then recounts the factual background of the case and challenges Laughlin’s legal right to hold the seat. As an exhibit, the court filing included the recent letter from the NC Attorney General’s office.
Rotruck was elected to the Summerfield Town Council in November 2017, however, early in 2018, Janelle Robinson, a resident of the town who frequently drove past the Strawberry Road home where Rotruck claimed to reside, filed the challenge to Rotruck’s right to vote in that town.
The Guilford County Board of Elections found Rotruck lived in Greensboro and voted unanimously to uphold Robinson’s voter challenge, and Rotruck was not allowed to participate in Summerfield Town Council meetings. In October, the Summerfield Town Council named Laughlin to the vacant seat.
Rotruck said he’s thrilled at the decision by the NC Attorney General’s office. He said it’s a very rare authorization from the Attorney General and he is pleased that they saw legitimacy to his claim and that he may regain his seat.
In a letter from NC Chief Deputy Attorney Alexander Peters, to Prause, Peters states, “Based on the information I have received, your request for leave for your clients to pursue this action in the name of the State is granted.”
It noted that it was subject to Rotruck “tendering security in the amount of $200.”
Prause said, “He gladly paid that.”
In the meantime, Rotruck’s appeal is working its way through the court system and there is no word on when North Carolina Court of Appeals will hear his appeal.
“That’s a different ball of wax,” Prause said of the appeal.