Its bad enough that North Carolinas run of unflattering headlines continued last week with the announcement of a Department of Justice lawsuit against the states repressive new voting law. But now, because of a state attorney general who couldnt hold his tongue, the parade of bad publicity is turning into a circus, too.
When the state begins its defense of the Justice Department lawsuit, it will do so represented by three separate teams of attorneys. The first will be the staff of the N.C. attorney general, Roy Cooper, who by law is tasked with defending North Carolina in such cases. Joining him, however, will be Karl Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer hired by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, along with Tom Farr, a Raleigh attorney hired by Republican legislators.
Why so crowded at the front of the courtroom? Its because back in July, Cooper wrote a letter to McCrory urging him to veto the voting law, which Cooper called unnecessary, expensive and burdensome. We agree on all counts, but Cooper, who may run for governor in 2016, was clearly making a political statement. If you want to offer the governor some legal advice, you do it with a phone call or a meeting. If your goal is really to reach the public, you put that advice in a letter posted on your web site.
(Just to be sure that message got across, Cooper also created an online petition in August asking citizens to join me in asking Governor McCrory to veto this regressive elections bill.)
In response, Republicans passed a law giving them standing to intervene in cases against the state. Now, Cooper says thanks but no thanks. There have been a number of laws that I have disagreed with personally that our staff has defended successfully, he told reporters last week. Its true, too, that attorneys regularly defend clients for whom they have personal distaste. But they dont make a public show of those feelings before the case has begun.
So we dont blame the governor and Republican lawmakers for wondering if Cooper might merely go through the motions in defending the states voting law. Its possible hes already been compromised by his public statements, which were cited in the Justice Department lawsuit last week.
Still, we hope the governor and lawmakers arent setting a precedent by hiring their own lawyers for the case. North Carolinians have elected Cooper to four terms as attorney general, and he has done his job well since he took office in 2000. The state doesnt need the spectacle and confusion of having lawmakers call in their own attorneys for cases each time they wonder about the attorney generals politics.
The state also doesnt need the expense. Bowers alone will be charging $360 an hour for his services, and Republican legislators havent said how much Farr will be billing the state. Did the governor and Republicans not trust each other enough to agree on just one extra legal eagle?
Cooper, for his part, seems insulted by the courtroom company hes about to get, but he brought this upon himself. Like the Republicans hes criticized, he let ideology and ambition get in the way of whats best for North Carolina.
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