Easley lawyer might not testify

Judge sees a violation of attorney-client privilege; the state appeals

Staff WriterOctober 27, 2009 

— Ruffin Poole, the lawyer who advised former Gov. Mike Easley during his eight years in office, persuaded a judge Monday to quash a subpoena calling him to testify before the state Board of Elections.

The arguments and decisions were made in a judge's chambers, out of the public's earshot.

A petition filed Monday morning by Poole's attorney, Raleigh lawyer Joseph Zeszotarski Jr., argued that Poole should not have to testify because he might be asked to divulge information from a protected attorney-client relationship with Easley.

Judge Henry Barnette, a retired judge working in Wake County Superior Court this week, heard the argument behind closed doors, as Poole's attorney asked. Three lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office did not protest.

"The rule provides for it," Barnette said afterward.

The N.C. Board of Elections voted Monday afternoon to appeal. It was unclear when the appeal would be heard.

Poole and the lawyers declined comment.

Board Chairman Larry Leake said the board does not want to question Poole about anything protected by attorney-client privilege. Testimony on Monday indicated that Poole was part of an effort to persuade contributors to write checks to the state Democratic Party that later ended up in Easley's campaign fund.

"We have a hard time understanding how fundraising would fit in that category," Leake said.

Easley's lawyer, Thomas Hicks, said the former governor did not object to Poole's taking the stand. "The governor's not concerned other than getting these issues resolved and moving on," he said.

Poole, 37, began his legal career in the state Department of Justice when Easley was attorney general. He was appointed special counsel to the governor in 2000. Poole coordinated operations within the governor's office including communications and crisis and "reputation management" initiatives, according to a profile on the Web site of the McGuire Woods law firm, which employs him.

Poole later was senior adviser on economic development, environmental, transportation and regulatory affairs.

Staff writer Dan Kane contributed to this report.

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or 919 932-8741

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