Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Value the zeal of legal aid lawyers

Posted August 15

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017; Editorial # 8198
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Imagine walking into the Kings Mountain offices of Tim Moore Attorney at Law, after receiving a summons for a traffic offense.

After explaining the particulars of the matter, the attorney Tim Moore, says he’ll take the case. But, understand, he admonishes, he won’t be zealous.  Overly zealous lawyers, like the ones working on behalf of poor clients at legal aid, get their budget cut by the General Assembly.

Of course House Speaker Moore would never tell clients he’d be anything less than a zealous advocate for their interest. That’s his job.

That’s why it is hard to understand why Moore would sneak a big last-minute cut in legal aid support, with practically no debate, discussion or explanation into the state budget. The dismissive defense he gave last week, reported by the Associated Press, was both inadequate and inappropriate.

Weeks after the budget was passed and rammed into law over the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper, Moore told reporters: “There were examples being brought to a number of us, where for example you had a ‘mom and pop’ who were landlords in a lease and where they were coming in and getting served with discovery and all these things and a lot of frivolous motions.”

Moore then left it to his press aide, Joseph Kyzer, to refuse to provide any details of the supposed complaints. “It wouldn't be appropriate for our office to comment about actual cases,” Kyzer said.

Say what? A huge budget cut and then the Speaker’s office stonewalls the public about the reasoning?

Given what has been done to the legal aid lawyers’ budget, the budget of the state Department of Justice and efforts to curtail the University of North Carolina Law School’s Civil Rights Center – just to point to a few examples – we all might need a reality check about what seems to really make the wheels turn at the legislature.

Rich, powerful and connected special interests and organizations go to the House Speaker – and other top legislative leaders – and tell them that these legal aid attorneys, who are paid at taxpayer expense are doing too good a job defending poor, elderly, disabled and abused people. It is costing these powerful people time and money.  It needs to stop.

Legislative leaders tell the special interests they’ll take care of things. Then, in the final hours of the legislative session, the fix is surreptitiously slipped into the state budget or another law.  No explanation.  No debate.  The deal is done.

But the consequences are no academic exercise. The legal aid cuts that were just passed may force the reduction of as many as 35 lawyers and staff.  People who need and deserve representation in the legal system won’t be able to get it.  They may get unfairly tossed out of their homes, be unable to stop domestic abusers, to name a few of the real-life concerns.

That is wrong.

And just as wrong is the back-room subterfuge.

Moore’s bad decision is compounded, if that’s even possible, by the lack of disclosure and transparency through which it was accomplished. Another sneak attack on the poor.

There was neither any need nor justifiable reason for the secrecy and heavy-handedness – other than covering up the fact that it is a truly bad idea.

Moore knows better and North Carolina’s taxpayers deserve better. The 2018 elections cannot come soon enough.

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