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Opening Statements Under Way In Trial Of Former Ag Commissioner

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Twelve jurors and two alternates began listening to opening statements in the trial of former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps Tuesday. Phipps is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with a campaign scandal.

Phipps is accused of lying under oath to the State Board of Elections in 2002. Investigators allege Phipps tried to cover up illegal funds for her campaign.

Among the people scheduled to testify in the trial are former ride operator Jimmie Drew, who claims that he personally gave Phipps thousands in illegal cash and Norm Chambliss, who allegedly asked Phipps to select Amusements of America to run the midway at the state fair.

Three of Phipps' former aides -- Bobby McLamb, Linda Saunders and Mike Blanton -- are also expected to testify. Each of those aides have pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the campaign.

As Phipps' trial is about to take place, officials in the state Agriculture Department feel that the scandal is in the past and they are looking forward to the future.

"I really feel like that is all behind us in the Department of Agriculture and we are moving forward," interim Ag Commissioner Britt Cobb said Monday at the N.C. State Fair.

Phipps entered the courtroom Monday, along with her father, former Gov. Bob Scott, and other family members. Earlier in the day, Phipps' attorneys had asked the judge to dismiss the case on grounds that her testimony before the State Board of Elections grants her immunity from prosecution. However, the judge denied her request.