Carolina Journal’s Don Carrington reports here on the upcoming trial involving Attorney General Roy Cooper.
A defamation lawsuit filed 13 years ago by Gene Boyce and three other Raleigh attorneys against Attorney General Roy Cooper, his 2000 campaign committee, and campaign worker Julia White finally is scheduled for a jury trial in April. On Friday, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III, who was assigned to preside over the case, set a trial date of April 28.
The plaintiffs allege that Cooper and his committee ran a political ad that was defamatory and constituted an unfair and deceptive trade practice, and that they participated in a conspiracy to violate a North Carolina law prohibiting false ads during election campaigns.
What specifically is the lawsuit about?
One week before the 2000 election, Cooper’s campaign started running a television ad that read: “I’m Roy Cooper, candidate for attorney general, and I sponsored this ad. Dan Boyce: His law firm sued the state, charging $28,000 an hour in lawyer fees to the taxpayers. The judge said it shocks the conscience. Dan Boyce’s law firm wanted more than a police officer’s salary for each hour’s work. Dan Boyce — wrong for attorney general.”
The ad contained statements that were not true. When the advertisement was running, Dan Boyce, Gene Boyce, Philip Isley, and Laura Isley were partners at the Boyce & Isley law firm in Raleigh. Dan Boyce did not work on the lawsuit the ad referenced, also known as the Smith case. The Boyce & Isley law firm had not been created. Gene Boyce and attorneys from the Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice law firm filed the Smith lawsuit.
Also, Gene Boyce was not the candidate, and he did not charge $28,000 an hour to the taxpayers in the Smith case. The judge sets legal fees in class-action lawsuits, and the final payment to the attorneys was less than 10 percent of the amount Boyce initially requested and much lower than the amount alleged in the ad.
Cooper continued running ads making those statements after Boyce & Isley formally requested that they be pulled and retracted, Boyce’s lawsuit says. On the second day the ad ran, Boyce & Isley notified the Cooper Committee in writing about the statements in the ad and requested that he retract them immediately. Cooper ignored the request and continued to run the ads. Gene Boyce said that Cooper’s ad ran at least three times a day for seven days on more than 20 television stations.
The four attorneys filed their lawsuit the day before the election. In three court filings from 2003 and 2008, Cooper stated, “The political advertisement is true.”
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