Legislature's legal bills top $9M in defense of state laws

Posted August 7, 2016 6:00 p.m. EDT

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore

— Law firms have billed Republican legislative leaders $9.3 million for legal services since January 2011, more than half of which comes from defending voter ID legislation struck down last week by a federal appeals court.

The total spent on private lawyers is more than 20 times the amount the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior and largely covers the cost of fending off challenges to redistricting, the amendment banning gay marriage, vouchers for attending private schools and House Bill 2.

Legislative leaders contend the costs are necessary to protect laws passed by the state's elected representatives, laws Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in November, has in several cases declined to defend. It's a move Republicans have criticized as putting politics above his duties as the state's top lawyer.

"For years, Roy Cooper has been squarely in the pocket of far-left special interest groups abusing the court system to undo their losses at the ballot box and has cared more about pandering for their money in his governor’s race than his constitutional duty to defend state laws, and that’s why we have called on him to resign," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. "Make no mistake, his refusal to do his job is the main reason we’ve been forced to hire outside counsel, and he is responsible for the increased costs on taxpayers."

But in many cases like voter ID, the Attorney General's Office was actively defending the state, meaning taxpayers were effectively double-billed by both private and state lawyers. Cooper said last week he would not appeal the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down the voter ID measure, and McCrory said he will now take it to the U.S. Supreme Court himself.

The Attorney General's Office contends the legislature's private lawyers are unnecessary and that the cases he chose not to appeal were no longer legally defensible – a decision all lawyers must make.

"Governor McCrory and the General Assembly have no one to blame but themselves for wasting millions in taxpayer dollars by passing clearly unconstitutional laws for political purposes," Samantha Cole, a spokeswoman for Cooper's office, said in a statement. "Even so, our professional attorneys worked hard to defend most of these laws, and private attorneys were an unnecessary expense."

The Governor's Office has not yet responded to a similar request made on July 5 for legal bills.

Spending by year

Spending data, obtained by WRAL News from General Assembly Legislative Services, show all billed amounts for legal services to the legislature from January 2011 through July 5, 2016. Explore additional views of the data below.

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