Raleigh, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper has settled a libel lawsuit brought against him by a former political rival and his family, putting to rest a 14-year-old complaint over a campaign ad.
Dan Boyce, his father, Gene Boyce, sister Laura Isley and brother-in-law Philip Isley and sued Cooper over a campaign ad that played on what Cooper claimed were excessive attorneys fees attached to a class-action tax case. Dan Boyce was Cooper's Republican opponent in the election for Attorney General in 2000.
"This is the result we've been trying to achieve for over a decade," said Morgan Jackson, a strategist who works for Cooper's political committee.
Jackson said the ad was based on court documents and materials published by the Boyces' law firm. "The settlement addresses any misunderstanding that occurred."
Under terms of the settlement, which Jackson provided to WRAL News, Cooper will pay $75,000 plus the fees of a mediator hired to deal with the case. Cooper also signed an apology attached to the agreement.
"Gene Boyce, Dan Boyce, Laura Isley and Phillip Isley are all excellent and ethical lawyers and honorable people. To the extent the political TV ad in the 2000 election for Attorney General implied anything else, we were wrong and apologize," reads the statement signed by Cooper and campaign aide Julia White. "We affirm Gene Boyce's personal integrity and professional ethical standards as well as every person in Dan Boyce's law firm as it existed in the year 2000, including Laura Boyce Isley and Phillip Isley."
Gene Boyce welcomed the settlement Thursday.
"It is unfortunate that it took 14 years for Roy Cooper and his team of attorneys to admit their TV ad is wrong and to submit a public apology into the Court records," Boyce said in a written statement. "My family and I are fortunate, unlike most folks, in that we have the ability to fight and clear our reputation from false accusations. Not all people can endure over a decade of litigation after being falsely attacked. I hope our result sends a strong message to future politicians that they are accountable in North Carolina and the United States for false TV ads."
In the 1990s, Boyce's law firm helped bring a class-action lawsuit filed by taxpayers who said they paid an unconstitutional tax on stocks and other securities. They were ultimately successful and won $146 million from the state. The law firm's original proposal for attorney fees it wanted to collect was rejected by the court.
The ad in question quoted a judge in the case as saying "It shocks the conscience" with regards to fees the Boyces' law firm charged.
The first of a pair of trials related to the suit was scheduled to begin in court on Monday. It would have involved Gene and Dan Boyce, who a Durham judge recently ruled were public figures in 2000. The second trial would have involved Laura and Philip Isley.
The settlement agreement both avoids a trial and puts to rest a political thorn in Cooper's side.
Cooper, a Democrat, is widely expected to run for governor in 2016.