Attorney General Roy Cooper sued for misuse of settlement funds

Civitas Center for Law and Freedom alleges Cooper violated Article IX of the NC constitution by illegally directing settlement funds to special interest groups

Gerry Broome—AP
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Roy Cooper makes a comment while participating in a live televised debate with North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory at UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park

RALEIGH — The Civitas Center for Law and Freedom (CLF) filed suit Tuesday against Roy Cooper in his capacity as North Carolina Attorney General alleging that he illegally funneled settlement money to special interest groups.According to the filed complaint, the settlement in question was agreed to in July of 2000 by then Attorney General Mike Easely (D) and Smithfield Foods Inc. and its subsidiaries, stemming from law violations by the latter regarding hog production methods utilized in the state. In the agreement, Smithfield and its subsidiaries agreed to pay up to $2 million a year based upon the number of hogs they produced.Based on recent precedent, the North Carolina Supreme Court holds that such settlement moneys must go to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund for the purposes of distribution to publicschool systems in accordance with Article IX, Section 7 of the N.C. Constitution. However, since taking office in 2001, Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) has maintained distribution of these funds, as recently as August 2016, to grant recipients for Supplemental Environmental Programs (SEP).Article IX, Section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution says that “all moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to a county school fund, and the clear proceeds of all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.””It is the job of the Attorney General to facilitate justice in our state, not undermine it,” said Civitas President Francis De Luca. “By handing over funds to special interests, funds which he is legally required to allocate to public education in our state, Roy Cooper has not just short-changed our education system, he has directly violated the North Carolina constitution.”Due to the three year statute of limitations in such matters, the plaintiffs are calling for Cooper to recover funds distributed to the special interest groups over the course of 2014, 2015, and 2016 – totaling $5.7 million. The suit also seeks releif for the remainder of the agreement, bringing the total amount of funds to be redirected to their proper use to $18 million.Currently in a tight election race for governor against incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R), Cooper has been criticized for politicizing the office of attorney general for the purpose of furthering political ambitions. Among the complaints is that Cooper has neglected the duty of his office by refusing to defend the State in myriad cases that clashed with political interests, such as suits filed in relation to the controversial H.B. 2 legislation passed by the General Assembly in spring 2016.