RALEIGH, N.C. — As Attorney General Roy Cooper looks ahead to the 2004 election, the Court of Appeals is looking back at his 2000 campaign.
Dan Boyce, his 2000 opponent, sued Cooper for slander because of an ad that claimed Boyce's law firm sued the state, charging $28,000 an hour in lawyer fees.
"It was a deliberate lie -- nothing more, nothing less -- and we can prove it," said Gene Boyce, Dan's father.
Gene Boyce and law partners, including city Councilman Philip Isley, led the case over "Truth in Advertising." The lawsuit has bounced around the courts ever since. Four years later, they are still following the courts, but they are confident it will go to trial.
"We are resolute in our beliefs that truth will come out in this case that Mr. Roy Cooper will have to tell 12 people in a box why he did what he did," Isley said.
The figure did come from somewhere -- a $150 million class action lawsuit that Dan Boyce's father helped settle. A judge threw out the hypothetical hourly rate while discussing potential legal fees. Dan Boyce did not work on the case and his law firm did not even exist then. However, defense attorneys for Cooper claim his law firm took credit for it during the campaign.
"We believe that the case has no merit," said Jim Phillips, Cooper's attorney.
Phillips said the claim is ambiguous at best and aims his arguments at protecting political speech.
"It's central to our democracy, central to our discussion of issues in the public arena and central to our election process," he said.
The Court of Appeals will now work on its opinion. Many groups are also watching the free speech issue. Two North Carolina Press agencies filed briefs, asking for the case to be thrown out. Roy Cooper was not in court Wednesday, and he did not issue a statement.
Earlier this year, a Wake County judge opened the door for a similar lawsuit to proceed.
Carolyn Grant is suing Brad Miller over two political ads she claims are false and malicious. The ad claimed Grant took $40,000 from her son's college fund to buy a new car. It ran in the 2002 campaign season while both were running for the 13th Congressional district. Miller won the seat.