Attorney General Roy Cooper files suit against eastern North Carolina charter

604-chartN.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has filed suit against an eastern North Carolina charter school, contending that leaders of the now-closed Kinston school mismanaged public funds.

Cooper’s office released the details of their complaint against Kinston Charter Academy Tuesday, which named the school, CEO Ozie L. Hall and the school’s board chairwoman, Demyra McDonald-Hall, as defendants.

“Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars to educate students and they have a duty to spend them wisely,” Cooper said in a statement. “There are many excellent charter schools but North Carolina needs more tools to protect families who choose charter schools.”

From Cooper’s statement:

Currently state law fails to adequately provide how North Carolina can fully recover taxpayer dollars from charter schools that fail or become insolvent.  Legislators should put safeguards in place to protect public education resources, Cooper said.

The complaint filed today in Wake County Superior Court alleges violations of North Carolina laws on deceptive trade practices, non-profit management and false claims. Cooper is asking the court to freeze the defendants’ assets and order them to repay misspent state funds as well as pay damages and civil penalties.

As alleged in the complaint, Hall and McDonald-Hall:

  • Falsely inflated the number of students Kinston Charter Academy would enroll so they could get more tax dollars, even though they knew the school would not be able to stay open for the 2013-2014 term.
  • Failed to disclose the school’s problems to students and their families, recruiting new students to enroll in the school while on the verge of closing it.
  • Took out risky loans with exorbitant fees and interest rates, borrowing $170,000 for less than two months at a cost of $60,000 which put the school in worse shape financially.
  • Used public money intended for educational purposes to enrich themselves and their family.

A January, 2015 report released by the State Auditor revealed many of the financial improprieties alleged in the lawsuit, including more than $11,000 in payments made to the defendants for unused vacation time and unspecified reimbursements and $2,500 to a daughter for a website that didn’t work—all while Kinston Charter Academy owed $370,825 for teacher salaries, insurance, retirement and other payroll obligations.

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The high cost of defending the conservative agenda

The state legislature has set aside $8 million to defend lawsuits challenging the litany of controversial laws passed by the Republican majority in recent years, according to the Associated Press.

The litigation list is long and includes several state and federal actions seeking a rejection of voting maps adopted in 2011 and a reversal of voting law changes enacted in 2013, as well as challenges to the state’s same-sex marriage ban, the private school voucher program and the “Choose Life” license plate offering.

Funds for litigation costs go to private counsel retained to represent state officials in court, typically the job of the Attorney General. In some instances though, Attorney General Roy Cooper has declined to represent the state in cases which his office has determined are indefensible.  For example, after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that a Virginia gay marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution, Cooper stated that his office would no longer defend the similar North Carolina ban in court. It was time to stop fighting court battles the state could not win, he said at the time.

In other instances, Republican lawmakers have retained private counsel even while Cooper was likewise defending the state, voicing concerns that he wouldn’t adequately represent their interests.

The primary beneficiary of the General Assembly’s largess has been the Raleigh office of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, with attorneys from that firm representing state officials in several lawsuits, including the voting rights and redistricting cases. That’s the same firm that also advised Republican leaders during the drafting of the 2011 redistricting plan.

Outside bills since summer 2014 alone exceeded $3 million, according to the AP — $2.9 million of that incurred by Ogletree Deakins to defend the voting rights cases.

Those cases are far from over, as dispositive rulings from the federal district courts remain pending and appeals to the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to follow. The same is true for the redistricting cases in state and federal courts, and new lawsuits challenging other controversial laws are on the horizon.

As the AP points out, a challenge to the state’s “magistrate recusal” law, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriages based upon a “sincerely held religious objection” to gay marriage, could be filed in the coming months.

According to Roy Cooper’s office,  the Attorney General has defended state laws in at least 15 cases and didn’t need the help of costly outside counsel.

“Our office hasn’t requested that the General Assembly hire any of the private lawyers they’ve been paying, and we think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to pay outside lawyers to do the work we’re already doing,” Cooper’s spokesperson Noelle Talley said in a statement.



Cooper misfires on refugees too

Roy Cooper 3

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper

Since Gov. McCrory was too busy winging his way to Las Vegas for a GOP governors’ confab on Tuesday to make a White House phone briefing on the Syrian refugee crisis, it’s too bad that he didn’t arrange for Attorney General Roy Cooper to sit in on the call for him. If Cooper had been able to join, he would have learned why his apparent echoing of McCrory’s call for a “pause” in the settlement of the refugees was just as ill-conceived and disappointing as the Governor’s.

As WRAL reported last night, Cooper said the following yesterday on the subject:

“As chief law enforcement officer of North Carolina, I support asking the federal government to pause refugee entries to make sure we have the most effective screening process possible so our humanitarian efforts are not hijacked. At the same time, we must not let political fear-mongering on this issue divert our attention and resources from stopping terrorists who may already be here or who are trying to get into our country in other ways.”

While Cooper deserves some credit for calling out the fear-mongering that’s been rampant in so many quarters in recent days, his statement ultimately smacks of a politician trying to have things both ways. As multiple experts have explained, there are no good reasons to stop admitting Syrian refugees into North Carolina. Attorney Kate Woomer-Deters of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center (the parent organization of NC Policy Watch) put it this way in a fine op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Refugees, by definition, are people who enter the United States already having been vetted and allowed to arrive legally within our borders. Under current law, refugees must prove to the U.S. government that they have faced persecution themselves and that they have not persecuted others. In other words, these are the very people fleeing the oppressive conditions and violence in their home countries that terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida have created.”

In other words, if politicians want to call for a “pause” in accepting refugees so that they can appear virile and appease ill-informed public opinion, we may have to live with it, but no one should harbor the illusion that such a pause will have any real impact on the ground other than to enhance human suffering.


State AG will not step into Greensboro redistricting fight

Roy Cooper 3Attorney General Roy Cooper will not intervene and defend the General Assembly in the recently-filed lawsuit challenging the Greensboro  redistricting plan lawmakers adopted in early July, according to this post in the  News & Record.

The city and six residents sued the Guilford County Board of Elections in federal court, contending that House Bill 263 — which passed despite widespread opposition in the House and only after backroom arm-twisting — dramatically changes the city council’s district boundaries and denies residents the right to change their form of government in violation of the state and U.S. constitutions.

The challengers named the county board, which would be charged with implementing the plan, as the only defendant in the case, and have asked the court to block the plan pending a resolution of the lawsuit and at least until after the upcoming municipal elections.

“Neither the state nor its agencies have been sued in this lawsuit,” Noelle Talley, communications officer for the attorney general’s office, told the News & Record. “Our litigation resources are currently tied up elsewhere, especially in the election law area where other laws passed by the General Assembly are being challenged in court. Our office has suggested that legislative leaders use their authority to intervene and defend this lawsuit if they want that done.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will hear argument on the request for a stay of the plan on July 23 in federal court in Greensboro.


Attorney General not joining Gov. McCrory in lawsuit over President’s immigration order

Roy Cooper 3North Carolina will not be joining Gov. Pat McCrory as a plaintiff in the multistate lawsuit filed earlier this week challenging President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on immigration.

McCrory signed on to that lawsuit in his capacity as governor and without the apparent support of his attorney general. Seventeen states and three other governors are also plaintiffs.

Yesterday, after the lawsuit had been filed on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest sent a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper, asking him to join the case on behalf of the state.

In a letter today, Cooper declined, adding that he did not think it beneficial for the state to join the lawsuit and add to the divisiveness and inaction already surrounding the immigration debate.

Cooper’s words:

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