RALEIGH — Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general and a leading 2016 gubernatorial contender for the Democrats, is scheduled to be on trial in late April for a campaign ad that aired more than a decade ago.
Lawyers were in Wake County Superior Court on Friday to talk about scheduling for a lawsuit that has lingered for 13 years.
Cooper and his 2000 attorney general campaign committee were accused that year by Dan Boyce, the Republican seeking the attorney general’s office, of airing a campaign ad that was defamatory and slanderous.
Cooper, who won that election by 136,000 votes, or 5 percent of the ballots cast, claims the ad in question was truthful.
“The ad was based on extensive research, including court records and the Boyces’ own campaign materials and statements,” Morgan Jackson, a spokesman for the Cooper campaign, said in an email. “We have tried to find a reasonable resolution to this matter for years and will continue to do so. If a resolution cannot be reached, we look forward to telling our story in court.”
That story could be told, if the lawyers keep to the court’s schedule, in the days before the May primary elections in which Democrats and Republicans seeking state House and Senate seats would be seeking party votes.
Cooper, who ran unopposed for his fourth term as the state attorney general in 2012, will not be on any 2014 ballots.
But already, he has been on the Democratic banquet circuit and putting out bolder political statements than in recent years, showing that he’s ready to fight the Republican agenda in Raleigh.
What the ad said
The 2000 ad, which aired on TV days before the election, tied Boyce and his firm to a contingency fee that his father, Gene Boyce, and lawyers at another firm requested in 1997 after they won a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the state’s taxpayers.
The case resulted in a $150 million judgment against the state, and Gene Boyce and the other lawyers sought 16 percent, or $23 million, in fees.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning reduced the fee to $1.5 million, saying the $23 million figure would work out to payments of $28,000 an hour and was “so excessive and unreasonable that it shocks the conscience of the court.”
The ad run by the 2000 Cooper campaign accused Boyce and others of charging exorbitant attorney fees in the lawsuit against the state.
Dan Boyce has contended that the ad was slanderous because he did not work on that case, but rather assisted his father on a companion case. Dan Boyce’s law firm also didn’t exist when the tax lawsuit was settled.
The plaintiffs contend Cooper kept running the ad even after he was informed it was false and was asked to pull it.
Delayed by appeals
Dan Boyce initially complained about the ad to the state Board of Elections, but a unanimous ruling in favor of Cooper was issued.
Though the case was filed more than a decade ago, it has been delayed by appeals.
Gene Boyce, who was in Wake County Superior Court on Friday, told Judge W. Osmond Smith III, who presided over the hearing, that he, too, was anxious to have his day in court over the merits of the case.
“We will have been at it 4,851 days,” Boyce said.
Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1