Easley avoids disbarment, agrees to license suspension

Posted January 6, 2012 11:51 a.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2012 6:55 p.m. EST

— Former Gov. Mike Easley will remain without his law license for another year under an order issued this week by the North Carolina State Bar.

The State Bar filed a formal complaint against Easley last month, seeking disciplinary action for his conviction for campaign fraud.

Easley entered an Alford plea to one felony count of certifying a false campaign finance report in November 2010. In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his innocence, and admits it is in his best interest to take the plea deal because there is sufficient evidence to find him guilty.

Easley's law license was suspended shortly after the guilty plea, pending the conclusion of formal disciplinary proceedings.

The State Bar issued an order Wednesday suspending his license for two years but giving him credit for the time he has already been without it. Easley and his attorney agreed to the findings and punishment.

The organization's disciplinary panel looked at a possible admonition, reprimand or censure against Easley but said none of those actions was sufficient "because of the gravity of harm to the public."

When a lawyer is convicted of a felony, the panel wrote in its findings, disbarment is the usual punishment. But the panel said a lesser punishment was justified in this case because there was no evidence that Easley knew the details of the campaign finance report, he took responsibility for the shortcomings of his campaign and he expressed remorse.

Easley's attorney, Alan Schneider, said that the State Bar and federal and North Carolina prosecutors all found no evidence of wrongdoing by Easley, except for one campaign flight that wasn't reported properly. So, he said, it's time to close the book on the investigations into his dealings while in office.

"Now is a time for all of us to accept the fact that these investigations revealed, and the facts show very clearly, that Gov. Easley is not a dishonest person," Schneider said in a statement. "To the contrary, he is a man of integrity and good character. He has served the people of North Carolina with grace, dignity and honor, and it is time to put this matter behind us and allow Gov. Easley to move on with his life."