Voting rights, redistricting, coal ash, same-sex marriage, “Choose Life” license plates, Charlotte airport, Asheville Water system, school vouchers, pre-K funding — the list of lawsuits filed against the state challenging recently-enacted laws continues to grow, as does the amount of taxpayer dollars being spent for outside counsel.
Add to that a reported $850,000 racked up for attorneys selected by the state to represent the Department of Transportation in cases challenging the Map Act — the decades-old law DOT has been using to tie up land along the path of proposed road construction, according to a report by WBTV.
Pursuant to the Act, the DOT can file a map with the local register of deeds identifying property where it anticipates building a road and protect that property from development or other action that might improve its value — in effect holding down the purchase price until the DOT is ready to buy.
Since 2010, hundreds of landowners with property located within one of the protected corridors have filed lawsuits to compel the state to buy their land.
And a challenge to the Act’s constitutionality is pending before the state Supreme Court.
NCDOT has contracted with four law firms to defend itself against the hundreds of cases filed against it in court.
The four firms work with attorneys from the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to defend the state.
As of January 2016, state had paid the four firms a total of $850,983.20.
NCDOT defends its use of outside attorneys by pointing to the large volume of cases filed in recent years.
“Because they did not have the internal legal resources to handle the high volume of cases, lawyers from the attorney generals office recommend the four outside counsel groups now representing the state in the 290 lawsuits filed against NCDOT, based on those firms’ previous experience with the map act issue,” NCDOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said.
One of the firms is that of North Carolina Senator Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus).
Fletcher’s firm, Hartsell & Williams in Concord, has just 18 cases but has billed more than a quarter million dollars since May 2015, invoices obtained by On Your Side Investigates show.
Hartsell did not respond to multiple requests for comment seeking to clarify how his firm came to be hired by the state and what steps, if any, he takes to ensure there is no conflict of interest on his part.
To read more about the Map Act, click here.