- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s attorney general has withdrawn an appeal in the case of a state employee who said he was fired by the previous Republican administration because he was a prominent Democrat.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein withdrew the state’s appeal in the firing of John Ledford, the former Alcohol Law Enforcement director. The filing in Madison County court on Monday said the parties have reached a settlement, but it doesn’t include details.

Stein spokeswoman Laura Brewer said Wednesday that all parties haven’t signed the settlement, so she can’t release details. However, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that Ledford can return to ALE as an agent at his previous salary and will collect back pay and attorney fees.

Ledford was appointed director of ALE in 2009 by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue. In late 2012, as Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was preparing to take over after Perdue’s term, Ledford decided to return to the field as an ALE special agent. He sought reassignment from Wilmington to Asheville, closer to his home county of Madison where he once was sheriff.

Ledford, who made $110,667 as ALE director, took a 41 percent pay cut to $65,887 when he became an agent. That still made him the highest-paid agent in the state, The News & Observer reported.

In April 2013, Ledford was fired without notice and he sued, saying he was discriminated against based on political affiliation. Last year, the state Court of Appeals dismissed arguments by the Department of Public Safety that there would be public policy ramifications if the appeals court allowed the ruling of Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison to stand.

The appeals court dismissed those concerns raised by the department also known as DPS.

“If our General Assembly is truly concerned with protecting North Carolinians against such harms as DPS forewarns, it can take appropriate legislative action, but this court declines DPS’s invitation to turn Ledford into a scapegoat for all that ails our body politic,” the ruling concluded.

Stein’s decision to withdraw the state’s appeal in Ledford’s case could bode well for Donald Van Der Vaart, the former Department of Environmental Quality secretary who headed McCrory’s response to coal ash and other problems.

In December, Van Der Vaart claimed a job as an environmental program manager effective one day before Cooper became governor. His pay dropped to about $97,000 after making $131,000 a year as agency secretary. A search of the database of North Carolina employees show Van Der Vaart is still employed at DEQ.

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Follow Martha Waggoner at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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