N.C. bar files formal complaint against former Gov. Mike Easley

acurliss@newsobserver.comDecember 7, 2011 

The N.C. State Bar, which regulates lawyers in the state, moved on Wednesday to begin disciplinary action against former Gov. Mike Easley, filing a formal complaint against the Democrat and lawyer who served two terms each as governor and attorney general in North Carolina.

The complaint says that Easley showed "professional unfitness" in his conviction on a felony campaign finance violation. Easley entered a plea on the charge one year ago.

The bar's complaint says that Easley is subject to discipline because of the conviction. The bar did not specify what penalties it will request, but the complaint is typically filed in cases where more serious punishment, such as suspension of a license or disbarment, is sought. Under the bar procedures, its lawyers would seek a specific punishment later.

Katherine L. Jean, the bar's general counsel who signed the complaint, declined to comment, citing bar rules about confidentiality.

Easley was governor from 2001 to 2009. He served as Attorney General and as a local prosecutor prior to that. Easley has had a law license since 1976. After leaving office, Easley briefly joined the McGuireWoods law firm but has since left.

The bar's two-page complaint essentially outlines that Easley was convicted of a felony, a charge that stemmed from a sweeping investigation by state and federal authorities into a number of issues that surrounded Easley as he left office.

While Easley's conviction was the result of a plea agreement, legal experts have said previously that the bar would have the ability to examine other conduct by Easley. Federal authorities had indicated in a letter at the time of Easley's plea that other charges were considered. In addition, a one-time friend of Easley had testified under oath in an elections board hearing that he billed Easley's campaign for home repairs he made on Easley's private residence at the direction of Ealsey. The former governor disputed that he directed any wrongdoing.

The felony plea related to a campaign-related helicopter flight Easley took in 2006 but did not pay for or report on several required disclosure reports.

The bar's complaint now will go to the state Disciplinary Hearing Commission, an administrative court separate from the bar. A three-person panel of the commission would hear facts first. Later, it would decide a punishment after taking into account a request for punishment by the bar. A hearing date was not immediately set.

A year ago, Easley consented to suspend his law license in the wake of the felony plea. But through his lawyers he has previously indicated that he would seek to retain his law license at some future date. His son is practicing law and Easley has said he always wanted to practice with his son. Easley had not taken action to retain his license.

Easley lawyer Joseph Cheshire declined to comment on the bar's complaint Wednesday.

Curliss: (919) 829-4840

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