Easley won't have to pay fine to get law license back

acurliss@newsobserver.comJanuary 16, 2012 

Without comment, state officials have made minor changes to amend an order that suspends the law license of former Gov. Mike Easley for a total of two years.

Easley, a Democrat and two-term governor who has been a lawyer since 1976, will still be eligible to receive his law license back in December, under the revised order.

The changes do not address criticisms and questions made public in the week since the N.C. State Bar first agreed to the punishment with Easley's lawyers, a suspension that was accepted by the bar's disciplinary hearing commission.

The written agreement had listed six factors officials said warranted a lesser penalty for Easley than is typical for a felon - disbarment.

Critics, including a state Board of Elections member, had focused on one factor adopted by the bar that concluded Easley had accepted personal responsibility for his actions and for his campaign. As of Friday, Easley's campaign owed the state $94,665 in unpaid fines tied to free flights he accepted as a candidate.

Elections board member Chuck Winfree had asked the bar to require Easley pay the state fine as a condition of getting his license back. The new filing does not do that.

Other factors cited by the bar said that Easley was "genuinely remorseful," though he did not appear in person at the bar hearing to speak about it, and that he had issued a "credible" denial of having knowledge about the false reports his campaign filed in 2006 and 2009 that led to his felony conviction. On the reports, the campaign had not disclosed a flight Easley took.

After a report in The News & Observer last week questioned facts in the bar report, the bar said it would amend the report. All officials involved declined to comment. The disciplinary hearing commissioners said they would not respond to questions.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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