Raleigh, N.C. — 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.