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More questions about Judge Chaney 

Former head of Durham nonprofit alleges inappropriate conduct

Following an Independent investigation into retired Durham District Court Judge Richard Chaney published earlier this month, the former head of a mentoring nonprofit has come forward with yet another report that damages Chaney's credibility and adds to suspicions that he had inappropriate relationships with teenage girls.

Gloria Vaca, former executive director of Durham Companions, says an 18-year-old employee of the organization asked her to intervene after Chaney allegedly made sexual advances to her in 1991.

"He started coming after work, and he would take her home," Vaca says, adding that Chaney offered the young woman financial help. "After a couple weeks of this, she came to me and said, 'He's really touching me, and he wants me to have sex with him, and I don't know what to do.'"

Vaca says she had given the young woman a job at the urging of the judge—who was a member of the nonprofit's board of directors at the time.

"My secretary left, and we had a position open," Vaca says, who ran Durham Companions from 1985 to 1995. "[Chaney] brought this young girl. She was a very tiny African-American girl. He said we should hire her because he met her at some event.

"She didn't have any skills, and I told him it wasn't going to work out. He said, 'No, it has to work out. We really need to give her a chance.'"

Durham Companions is a 22-year-old nonprofit that provides one-on-one mentoring services for at-risk youth between the ages of 6 and 17, funded primarily with public grants.

Vaca says Chaney, a 22-year veteran of the bench and a member of the Durham Companions' board of directors for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was never matched as a one-on-one volunteer with a child, nor did he ever apply. She says Chaney resigned from the board within two weeks after Vaca confronted him with the sexual misconduct allegations, which was directly after the young woman confided in her.

"He just got bright red and said, 'I'm so glad you told me,'" Vaca remembers. "He said not to tell anyone else. But I wasn't going to be able to do that. I told other people on the board, and I told some staff."

Another board member from that time, who spoke on the condition of confidentiality, says she also heard the young woman's allegations.

Durham Rep. Larry Hall, who served on Durham Companions' board with Chaney, says he does not recall the incident.

"I don't recall the reason why [Chaney resigned], and I don't have any information on any complaints from the young woman," Hall said in a voicemail message.

Chaney did not return phone messages asking him to respond to Vaca's allegations. He responded to messages left during the Indy's earlier investigation with a general e-mail, saying in part: "I often went the extra mile to try to help others, and I have had a positive impact on many lives. I am confident that anyone who knows me well or has worked with me in volunteer activities will vouch for my character and integrity."

Vaca's account dates concerns about Chaney's volunteer activities back to the early 1990s, almost a decade earlier than previously reported. Her story of Chaney's response to the 1991 incident—resigning from his board seat—is similar to Chaney's resignation from the Durham district court bench in 2006. He retired shortly after the state launched an investigation into Chaney's relationship with a troubled black girl.

As the Independent first reported earlier this month ("What is Judge Richard Chaney hiding?," cover story, Jan. 16), Principal Emmett Tilley from Durham's Githens Middle School reported suspicions about Chaney to the Durham County Sheriff's Office in January 2006 . Chaney volunteered in the Githens' Truancy Court, an in-school program for kids who chronically skip classes.

Will Oakley, then a sex crimes investigator for the sheriff, recorded Tilley's concerns about Chaney's relationship with one girl in particular, whom Chaney was driving to and from school and who apparently lived with him at least part time.

Oakley's report eventually launched a State Bureau of Investigation probe, which in turn exposed concerns about Chaney's volunteer activities that dated back to the 1990s—separate from the Durham Companions incident.

In 1997, former News & Observer courts reporter Lynette Mitchell wrote a story about a girls' soccer team Chaney coached.

"One of the young ladies mentioned some kind of touching that she found kind of awkward," Mitchell says of an interview she conducted with the team. "I jotted that down in my notebook.

"When I got to work that Monday, Chaney paged me and I went to his chambers, and he mentioned that his daughter mentioned to him that one of the young girls had said something.

"He said, 'I'm not trying to tell you not to include that in your article, but if you were, I just want to be able to respond.'" Mitchell says she didn't include the information in the story because she hadn't confirmed it with any other girls.

An SBI agent subsequently interviewed Mitchell, she says.

Chaney was never charged, but retired from the bench within a few months of the SBI investigation, although he still served in Durham as an emergency judge, filling in at various courts when necessary.

Chaney resigned from his emergency judge position just last month after authorities opened an inquiry into a May 13, 2007, incident in which a 15-year-old girl—the same girl whom Principal Tilley suspected of having an inappropriate relationship with Chaney—called 9-1-1 from Chaney's Hope Valley home. A police document indicates that the Northern High School student, referred to as an "acquaintance," reported a "simple assault," but there are no further details available.

The status of the state's case is unclear. Noelle Talley, the public information officer for the attorney general, did not respond to voice and e-mail messages.

Oakley said he is unaware of any updates.

"I definitely haven't heard anything," Oakley said this week.

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