Republican lawmakers, at odds with AG Cooper, spent $9.5 million on private lawyers

Lawmakers pay nearly $10 million in legal fees

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) says he and his Republican colleagues in the North Carolina General Assembly have had to shell out more than $9.5 million on private attorneys because they don't trust Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to represent them in court.

On Your Side Investigates talked with Berger after his office made records available outlining the amount of money the general assembly has spent on private attorneys since Republicans assumed control of the legislature in 2011.

"The current attorney general has taken it upon himself, in many instances, proposes to be judge and jury about whether or not what the general assembly has done is appropriate," Berger said.

Records provided by Berger's office show taxpayers have paid seven different law firms or individual attorneys to represent the legislature in 11 different cases. Included in that number are challenges to House Bill 2, the legislative redistricting plans and the recently-overturned voter ID law.

In some cases, like the challenge to HB2, Cooper has refused to defend the law. In others, like the redistricting cases, attorneys for Cooper's office have participated in defending the state alongside private attorneys.

Berger said he and his colleagues have had to hire private lawyers to work with staff from the AG's office because, he said, he doesn't always trust the job that Cooper and his staff will do.

"In many instances, we've had to retain council in order to sort of look over the shoulders of the Attorney General to make sure that things are being aggressively pursued," Berger said. He's given us every reason to be distrustful of the job he's going to do."

A spokeswoman for Cooper's office declined a request to make Cooper available for an on-camera interview to discuss his decision making process when deciding which cases to represent and which to pass on.

But the spokeswoman passed along a list of 18 cases where laws passed by Republicans in the general assembly were challenged in court, including a law changing control of the Charlotte Airport.

In some of the cases on the list, though, Cooper's office decided to stop defending the laws before the appeals process was complete.

For instance, Cooper's office chose not to appeal a decision by the US Court of Appeals' 4th Circuit striking down a 'Choose Life' license plate to the US Supreme Court. Instead, lawmakers hired a private attorney and paid $54,000 to appeal the decision. Ultimately, the license plates were found to be constitutional.

"If he's not willing to do the job he currently has, then he should resign," Berger said. "He should go ahead and be full-time with his run for office, which I think he probably is in any respect."

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