RALEIGH, N.C. — A lawsuit against North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper will proceed to trial, a Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Judge W. Osmond Smith III said in an order that "there are genuine issues of material fact" in the case in which Cooper ran a TV campaign advertisement in 2000 that claimed the law firm of his opponent sued the state and charged $28,000 an hour in attorney's fees.
Dan Boyce and his law firm sued Cooper for slander the day before the election, saying the ad was a lie and that Cooper knew it was false.
The case has bounced around on appeals – it even went before the U.S. Supreme Court – before being sent back to Wake County Superior Court.
Neither Cooper nor Boyce were available for comment Friday afternoon. The case is scheduled for trial May 18.
"I think it was a significant event and a factor in the race," said David McLennon, a political science professor at Peace College in Raleigh.
McLennon said he believes the case will have a significant impact on campaign advertising that has become more over-the top.
"If the Boyce case is successful, I think political candidates and their consultants are going to take a second and third thought about the kind of claims they make in political ads," he said.
At a hearing earlier this week, Cooper's attorney, Jim Phillips, argued that the case should be dismissed, saying the information in the ad came from the Boyce campaign and that Cooper couldn't have known if it was false.
The $28,000-an-hour figure came from a rate a judge mentioned while discussing potential legal fees for a $150 million class-action suit that Boyce's father and law partner, Gene Boyce, settled with the state over taxes wrongly collected from state retirees.
Gene Boyce had sought 16 percent of the settlement, which the judge said "shocks the conscience of the court."
Although Dan Boyce didn't work on the case and his current firm, Boyce & Isley, didn't exist at the time of the settlement, Cooper's attorneys maintained that Dan Boyce took credit for the settlement during the 2000 campaign.