From the Kinston Free Press, by Eddie Fitzgerald
Paul Newby didn’t quite know what he was getting into when he was summoned to the N.C. Attorney’s General Office several years ago. But not long after that he would be involved in solving a 138-year-old mystery and returning an important document to the state.
Newby entertained 74 Kinston Rotarians at King’s Barbecue Restaurant on Thursday with history, humor and explaining the judicial system while reminiscing about the return of the stolen document.
A year before being elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court, Newby, who was an assistant United States attorney in Raleigh at the time and is now a senior associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, was asked by the attorney general and then-Gov. Mike Easley to find out who was in possession of North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights and find a way to get it back.
The document was stolen from the state Capitol by a Union soldier near the end of the Civil War and taken to Tippecanoe, Ohio. Later the soldier took the document to Troy, Ohio and sold it for a $5 gold piece to Charles Shotwell, a grain salesman.
The document later showed up in Indiana where the Secretary of State there tried to negotiate a fee for a “gentleman” in possession of the the piece of history who wanted to get it back where it belonged, Newby said.
North Carolina’s Secretary of State said the document was stolen and if the man was a gentleman he would give it back, but North Carolina would not pay for something it rightfully owned, Newby said.
After some time passed Shotwell decided to buy the document back and hang it on his wall. But it was passed down to his son and his daughters, one of whom tried to sell it through a Sotheby’s Auction. But the auction house said it was stolen and would have nothing to do with it, Newby said.
The document finally ended up in the hands of Wayne Pratt, an antiques collector from Boston, for $200,000. Pratt, a regular on “Antiques Roadshow,” hired a Washington, D.C. attorney, John Richardson, to negotiate a deal with the state of Pennsylvania to buy the document for a new constitution museum being built, Newby said.
The governor of Pennsylvania called Easely with a deal, saying Pennsylvania would pay the $5 million purchase price Richardson was asking for the Bill of Rights and would give North Carolina the opportunity to display it for a month out of the year if North Carolina turned over the claims to the document. Easely said he didn’t think it was a good deal and asked Newby if the state had any legal rights to get the document back.
Newby said it was a case of interstate transportation of stolen property and got a seizure warrant. The FBI was called in to set up a sting operation after Easely got assurances from the Pennsylvania governor that he would get the National Constitutional Center and their attorneys to continue negotiating with Richardson.
But three days later the FBI agent, who negotiated the deal down from $5 million to $4 million called Newby and said “we’ve got a problem,” Newby said.
“He said ‘I need a cashier’s check for $4 million,’ I said ‘Wait a minute,’” Newby said. “I watch TV. You’re an FBI agent. Make one up. You can do that.’”
Instead the agent went to a First Union Bank and got a cashier’s check for $4 million, he said.
“I guess First Union thought the government was good for it and now there is no longer a First Union,” Newby said, causing a roar of laughter in the room. “I don’t know if there is a correlation to that.”
The next morning the FBI agent showed Richardson the check. Richardson was satisfied and called a courier who brought the Bill of Rights to him.
Newby said experts who could identify historic documents were on hand and verified it was original. But was it North Carolina’s copy? Copies of the original Bill of Rights were stolen from four states — Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, he said.
A document expert took the Bill of Rights out of its frame and looked on the back where a clerk had written “Received by the state of North Carolina 1789,” Newby said.
“So the FBI agent goes up to Mr. Richardson, reaches in his pocket and says ‘I guess you are expecting this’ and pulls out - instead of the check - he gives him the seizure warrant from the Eastern District of North Carolina,” Newby said.
Then the agent decides to have a little fun, saying he knew Richardson was a high-power attorney, but that he would explain what the seizure warrant was.
“One is, you don’t get any money; two is, you don’t leave with the document; and three is, don’t leave the country because we’ll want to talk to you later. Have a good day,” the agent said.
Newby worked on the case until his election to the Supreme Court a year later and litigation continued a while longer, he said.
“But ultimately I’m pleased to tell you that your original copy of the Bill of Rights now resides in your North Carolina state archives,” he said.
Article originally posted here: http://www.kinston.com/news/20170901/justice-newbys-role-in-bringing-bill-of-rights-back-to-nc