- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The legal bills keep mounting for outside attorneys to defend changes to North Carolina election law, which critics call the toughest in the country.

A year ago, Gov. Pat McCrory hired his own attorney to represent him in a federal lawsuit alleging new Republican-backed voting changes were intended to suppress minority voter turnout. Since then, South Carolina-based lawyer Karl S. “Butch” Bowers Jr. has billed the state $301,824 for work at his rate of $360 an hour, invoices provided by the governor’s office show.

Bowers was hired after state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat gearing up to challenge McCrory in 2016, opposed the changes, McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said Tuesday.

That “prejudiced his ability to provide a vigorous defense of common sense voter ID law,” Tronovitch wrote in an email. “It’s disappointing that we need an outside attorney to defend this common sense law, but it’s worth it to protect our voting integrity and process for generations to come.”

State attorneys from Cooper’s office defended the election law before a federal appeals court last week.

Bowers, who served as the Justice Department’s special counsel for voting matters during the administration of President George W. Bush, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

The General Assembly has hired its own set of lawyers to defend the sweeping elections legislation, which cuts early voting by a week, ends same-day voter registration and includes a stringent photo ID requirement. Attorneys from labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins have charged taxpayers $1.14 million to represent lawmakers.

Ogletree Deakins attorneys also billed taxpayers about $1.8 million as of August to help the attorney general defend congressional and legislative redistricting maps following the 2010 Census.

It’s not unusual for lawmakers and governors to go to court, said James Tierney, the director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia University’s law school.

“Everybody wants to be attorney general,” said Tierney, a former Maine attorney general. “All of them think they can do it better than the attorney general, without exception.”

The attorney general sent the governor a letter last year urging McCrory to veto the sweeping elections bill approved by the GOP-dominated state legislature and warning the changes were highly likely to face court challenge.

“There were dozens of reasons to veto this bad elections bill with its restrictions on voting, more corporate campaign money and reduced public disclosure being just a few,” Cooper said then.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/


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