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Speaker Moore’s big whopper about legal aid

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House Speaker Tim Moore

As a growing number of editorials in the state’s major news outlets have noted in recent days, House Speaker Tim Moore’s unilateral, backroom decision to slash funding for Legal Aid of North Carolin [2]a is an example of modern North Carolina politics at their absolute worst.

This is from last Tuesday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer [3]:

To the list of legislative actions that have slapped the poor across their faces in North Carolina – no Medicaid expansion, higher sales taxes, tax cuts for the wealthy that have to be made up by those taxes – add reductions in state money for legal aid services. Assistance for several legal aid programs in the state has been reduced drastically in the last few years by Republicans in the General Assembly, who’ve conducted a one-sided war against the poor since taking control of the legislature.

The legal aid cuts done in the name of budget-balancing but now said by longtime observers to likely be permanent deny the poor a fair shake in the complicated legal system. That might mean a handicapped person can’t get access to a wheelchair, or worse, it might result in someone unjustly being thrown out of an apartment.

What’s more the decision is premised on a blatant falsehood. As this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com [4] rightfully observes:

Weeks after the budget was passed and rammed into law over the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper, Moore told reporters: “There were examples being brought to a number of us, where for example you had a ‘mom and pop’ who were landlords in a lease and where they were coming in and getting served with discovery and all these things and a lot of frivolous motions.”

Moore then left it to his press aide, Joseph Kyzer, to refuse to provide any details of the supposed complaints. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for our office to comment about actual cases,” Kyzer said.

Say what? A huge budget cut and then the Speaker’s office stonewalls the public about the reasoning?

In other words, this is just hogwash. Legal Aid doesn’t have enough lawyers or time to be taking frivolous actions of this kind [5] — certainly not on any kind of scale that would warrant punishing the entire organization or the thousands of poor people it serves. If Moore has actual evidence of such behavior, he is a lawyer and a member of the bar and he ought to take action through the appropriate channels to expose and seek sanctions against the lawyers he is accusing. To simply slash the program and punish the people it serves based on such vague and flimsy allegations is just the latest in a long line of embarrassing decisions by the Speaker and his minions.