Cooper: Outside counsel for elections law case 'unnecessary'

Posted October 1, 2013

In the wee hours last Friday morning, lawmakers approved a surprise measure as they were leaving town to give House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger the same authority as the attorney general to speak for the state in court.

— Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday that his office doesn't need any help in defending the state's new elections law but pledged his office will work with lawyers hired by Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature. 

"Our office has the primary responsibility for defending this and other lawsuits," Cooper said. "I think it's unnecessary to hire additional attorneys. They certainly have the authority to do that under the law, and they've done it. ... Unfortunately, I think it just ends up costing more money."

Cooper, a Democrat, opposed the elections legislation – passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by a Republican governor – as it moved through the legislature.He has called the bill "regressive" and said it would make it harder for "working people" to vote -- comments that were echoed in the federal lawsuit.

But Cooper said other lawyers on his staff could handle the case well.

"There are a number of laws that I have disagreed with personally that our staff has defended successfully, and we anticipate they will continue to do their jobs," he said.

McCrory has hired  Karl S. "Butch" Bowers Jr., a former member of the Justice Department closely associated with Republican causes. He recently helped Republicans in South Carolina push a redistricting case and is a member of Republican National Lawyers Association. A lawyer for McCrory said Bowers will charge the state $360 per hour for his services. 

Meanwhile, the legislature has hired Tom Farr, the same lawyer lawmakers called on to help defend newly drawn legislative and congressional districts in state court. 

Typically, the Attorney General's Office defends the state in all lawsuits, particularly when laws of the state are challenged in federal court. Cooper criticized the cost of hiring outside counsel. 

But McCrory's chief legal counsel, Bob Stephens, said the governor was forced to make that hire because Cooper had spoken out against the bill when it was being crafted by the General Assembly.

"I was concerned then, and I'm concerned today that the comments that he has made that have been critical of this legislation have compromised his ability to represent the state of North Carolina," Stephens said.

He said it was Cooper who bore the responsibility of the added cost by making disparaging comments about the law.

But he stopped short of calling on Cooper to recuse himself from the case, saying that's something the attorney general would have to decide for himself, and he went on to praise the attorney general's staff and said McCrory's lawyer would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the state's lawyers.

Pressed as to why the governor needed his own lawyer, Stephens said the judge might have in the back of his mind that the attorney general for the state thinks he is defending a bad law.

"If you were charged with a crime, would you want to hire a lawyer who had gone out on a street corner and announced publicly that you were guilty?" he asked.


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  • Mom2two Oct 3, 2013

    I hope it is coming out of McCrory's (AKA Art Pope's pocket).

  • May201861 Oct 3, 2013

    I do not trust this man at all. Actually, in general I do not trust most elected officials

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Oct 3, 2013

    "Wait...Didn't the Speaker and Pro Tem legislate themselves as legal counsel for the state? We have Thom and Phil we don't need outside counsel. We already pay them, why pay private counsel more tax dollars?" - lem07

    I can't believe it either! Thom and Phil, you're going to just let some unknown Republican lawyer rake in $360 an hour from our NC tax money? What if this guy is not even in the Tea Party, for gosh sakes? You'd better check that out!

    :-) Can't wait for Governor Roy Cooper to take over the mansion!

  • sandim50 Oct 3, 2013

    One of the changes in the voting that I am opposed to is, the early voting change. The lines for early voting have been very long, so by cutting out the early voting, the lines on just one day of voting would be staggering The lat time I voted EARLY, I was on line for about 1.5 hours. That was extra tough, since I take LASIX for health reasons.

  • sandim50 Oct 3, 2013

    Well, without objection today, I was asked and showed my photo ID at Walmart with a check, Hess, when using my credit card and
    the Post office when picking up registered mail. My feeling was this is good, so my protection is guaranteed. My wife gave up her drivers licence about 2 years ago, and got a State photo ID for $10 and this is for LIFE
    My feeling is if we can get out to vote, then why can't we go one time to the local office and get a photo ID. I do not believe that this law is against race-age or anything else. Thank you!

  • lem07 Oct 3, 2013

    Wait...Didn't the Speaker and Pro Tem legislate themselves as legal counsel for the state? We have Thom and Phil we don't need outside counsel. We already pay them, why pay private counsel more tax dollars?

  • Krimson Oct 3, 2013

    "What does it cost to get a proper picture ID? $5, $10, $25?"

    Sad that people are so willing to throw away their own Constitutional protections...

  • dollibug Oct 2, 2013

    ****I think they need some serious help. I for one do not believe Cooper will defend the law to the best of his ability, politics will get in the way.

    He should not worry about another attorney getting involved.

  • dollibug Oct 2, 2013

    OMG*****let's hope they do NOT SHUTDOWN as well....GOD HELP AMERICA.

  • 1jalapeno Oct 2, 2013

    What does it cost to get a proper picture ID? $5, $10, $25?