RALEIGH, N.C. — State House Speaker Jim Black wants up to $200,000 of state funds to cover legal expenses for his office. His case isn't the first for the taxpaying public.
In subpoenas, state and federal investigators are seeking five years worth of information related to video poker, the lottery, past and present office workers and more from Black's office.
"All of that takes a lot of time and effort," said Black's office attorney Dianna Jessup.
Jessup said it also takes outside legal counsel. She defended the Speaker's request for taxpayer money to pay private lawyers.
"It is our duty, and we certainly want to be cooperative and accurate and thorough," she said. "And having outside counsel is vital to that."
"Outrageous is the best way to describe it," said North Carolina Republican Party chief of staff Bill Peaslee.
State Republican leaders, constant critics of Black, call it a waste.
"You have taxpayers funding both sides of this thing," said Peaslee. "If the speaker hadn't broken the law, taxpayers wouldn't have to be paying any of this."
For the record, Speaker Black has been accused, but not convicted of campaign finance violations. He's also not the first public employee to seek help with private legal bills.
Taxpayers are footing the legal bill for two former Attorneys General accused of witholding evidence in a trial that sent Alan Gell to death row. Gell was cleared years later. The state Department of Health and Human Services has also spent more than a $1 million on outside counsel for Medicaid issues.
In Black's case, as with any public employee involved in a work-related criminal investigation, the law dictates he pay back attorney's fees if he's ever convicted.
The state Attorney General and Gov. Mike Easley already approved a $30,000 cap for Black's legal expenses. They are now considering Black's request for up to $200,000.