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Morning Roundup: Coble open to tax hikes, Perdue may revoke judicial order

Members of the N.C. congressional delegation say they’re ready to compromise on some hardened positions to reach a deal that would prevent the country from plunging over the “fiscal cliff.” Failing to reach an agreement by the end of the year would trigger tax hikes and massive cuts in spending on federal programs.

N.C. Rep. Howard Coble is the latest Republican who says he’s willing to buck one of the party’s sacrosanct pledges to not raise taxes. Read full story here.

More political headlines:

--N.C. Supreme Court Justice Patricia A. Timmons-Goodson, the first and only female African-American to serve on the state’s highest court, is resigning her position. Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat who will leave office after next month, is intent on making the replacement even though if it means she rescinds an executive order she signed to do it.

Former prosecutor sanctioned over trumped-up arrest

A longtime children’s advocate has been sanctioned by the State Bar for having a mother thrown in jail on trumped-up charges in order to prevent the woman from visiting her child, who had testified against the woman’s boyfriend in a sex-abuse trial.

Former Durham prosecutor Jan Paul, who is now a staff attorney for the General Assembly, didn’t contest the accusations against her, although she was represented at a bar hearing by a state-paid attorney at $250 an hour plus expenses, on a contract worth up to $10,000.

State elections board member says Easley should pay fine

A member of the state Board of Elections says that former Gov. Mike Easley should pay an outstanding $94,665 fine as a condition of getting his law license back.

Chuck Winfree, a member of the elections board since 2001, said the reasoning behind a deal struck by the N.C. State Bar to settle an investigation of Easley and grant him a two-year law license suspension is inadequate as long as the fine is unpaid. Easley, a Democrat, is the former two-term governor who was the subject of state and federal investigations that resulted in a plea deal in 2010 and a felony conviction.

The bar last week consented in an agreement with Easley to a punishment that is less than disbarment and it said was warranted for six reasons, one of them being that "Easley accepts personal responsibility for his own actions and for the actions of his campaign committee."

Winfree said it is "lip service" to conclude Easley took responsibility for the campaign as long as the fine is unpaid. "The State Bar needs to make payment a condition," Winfree said in an interview. "Otherwise, it's all window dressing." Read more from reporter Andy Curliss here.

State Bar files formal complaint against former Gov. Easley

The N.C. State Bar, the agency that regulates lawyers in North Carolina, has filed a formal complaint against former Gov. Mike Easley over his felony conviction a year ago on a campaign finance violation.

The complaint, filed on Wednesday, says that Easley showed "professional unfitness" and is subject to discipline. Easley, a Democrat, is a former state Attorney General who has had a law license since 1976. The bar's 2-page complaint essentially outlines that Easley was convicted of a felony.

The complaint now will go to the state Disciplinary Hearing Commission, which would hear facts and decide a punishment. A three-person panel of commission members will decide punishment, much like a court would in a criminal case. A year ago, Easley consented to a suspension of his law license.

But through his lawyers he had previously indicated that he would seek to retain his law license at some future date. A hearing has not been set.

--J. Andrew Curliss, staff writer

Winstead headed to N.C. State Bar

Mary D. Winstead, a state deputy attorney general in the Special Prosecutions Section, is retiring after 30 years of state service. But she won't stop working.

Winstead has taken a job as deputy counsel of the N.C. State Bar, which regulates and disciplines lawyers.

Her best-known case: In 2007, Winstead was assigned by Attorney General Roy Cooper to step into the Duke lacrosse case when Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong stepped aside. Winstead and Jim Coman's review led to the dismissal of charges against three Duke lacrosse players who had been falsely accused of rape.

Mackey's law license suspended

The North Carolina State Bar on Monday suspended state Rep. Nick Mackey's law license in a case the bar described as involving "acts of dishonesty," "a pattern of misconduct" and circumstances reflecting Mackey's "lack of honesty, trustworthiness, or integrity."

Mackey, a Democrat whose district covers parts of north, central and eastern Mecklenburg County, will lose his license for three years, though he can petition to get it back under certain conditions after one year, Mark Johnson and Jim Morrill report.

The case, which included his failure to disclose information on both unpaid taxes and a misconduct investigation, had been scheduled for a hearing Thursday and Friday.

"I'm happy that this matter has been resolved," Mackey said Monday. "I'm disappointed with the outcome, but I accept it. I'll use this as an opportunity to put any past mistakes behind me and continue to faithfully serve the people of North Carolina and represent their best interests."

His opponent in today's Democratic primary, Rodney Moore, said the State Bar's punishment was sad news for the district.

Mackey has made some political enemies among the Charlotte delegation. Rep. Beverly Earle, a fellow Democrat who accused Mackey of recruiting Earle's primary opponent as well as working against other members from Charlotte, said she expects a complaint will be filed with the Legislative Ethics Committee based on the order.

Bill would expand coverage in N.C.

The Senate health bill scheduled for passage Christmas Eve would provide federal health care to nearly half a million more North Carolinians, force individuals to purchase health insurance and offer subsidies for households earning up to $88,000 a year for a family of four. (N&O)

The state agency that disciplines lawyers has taken the unusual step of chastising the entire prosecutors' office in Johnston County for its mishandling of evidence in a first-degree murder case. The N.C. State Bar is trying to send a message to prosecutors across the state. (N&O)

Partisan storms surrounding the Wake County school board continued Monday, with Republican power broker Art Pope downplaying his role in the election of GOP-backed candidates to the board.

And attorney Thomas Farr, selected as special interim counsel by the board, spoke to clarify his role in controversial mailings by Sen. Jesse Helms' campaigns in 1984 and 1990. (N&O)

The other Cunningham

Cal Cunningham has been all over the blogs and newspapers this week since he announced he was entering the race for U.S. Senate.

Another "Cal Cunningham" also got his name in print this week. This Cunningham, also a lawyer, was involved in a messy dispute over six-figure legal fees, a dispute that was settled Tuesday by the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The court case and legal fee dispute concern Cal Cunningham II, who is the father of Cal Cunningham III, the candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. In February, the elder Cunningham was reprimanded by the N.C. State Bar, which licences and regulates lawyers, for padding his bills. The Bar found that the elder Cunningham billed a client for preparing the paperwork necessary to stop representing the client. The Court of Appeals ruling determined that the elder Cunningham improprly sued the same client over unpaid bills.

Opposition researchers have undoubtably already combed over the court filings and started working on how and if to use them.


Weyher to lead State Bar

Barbara Weyher is the new president of the N.C. State Bar, the organization that licenses and regulates lawyers.

Weyher, who succeeds John McMillan of Raleigh, is only the second woman to hold the job, according to a news release. 

Weyher is a founding partner of Yates, McLamb & Weyher, a civil defense law firm based in Raleigh. She previously served on the bar's governing council and was chairwoman of a number of committees including the Grievance and Ethics committees.

In a news release, Weyher said she wants to increase the role of women and minorities in governing the organization.

"I have been privileged over the years to be involved with the North Carolina State Bar and have a great respect for the organization and its members," said Weyher. "In the coming year, we will be exploring ways to increase the number of women and minority lawyers on the State Bar Council." 

DENR launches probe of Verizon gifts

* The state environment agency is investigating whether its employees accepted gifts and meals from Verizon Business, a company that provides electronics to vehicle inspection stations.

Verizon gave the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources documentation of meals and a Carolina Hurricanes hockey ticket the company provided free to five Division of Air Quality employees from 2006 to spring of this year, said DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer.

Three of the employees implicated still work at the agency, he said. Kritzer said the agency is working to verify the information it received from Verizon.

The State Bureau of Investigation is already investigating the gifts. Verizon Business holds a lucrative no-bid contract with the state. (N&O)

* State Rep. Nick Mackey has denied charges by the N.C. State Bar that he willfully failed to file four years of tax returns on time, saying he was following the advice of his tax preparer.

He also denied that he failed to pay four earlier years of taxes on time, saying he believed all forms had been filed and that monthly payments were being made. In his response posted by the State Bar this morning, Mackey also denied charges that he didn't properly represent a former legal client, and disputed allegations about his former tenure as a Charlotte police officer.

Mackey faces a December hearing before the bar's Disciplinary Hearing Commission, which could opt to dismiss the charges or levy a punishment ranging from a warning to disbarment. The bar is the state agency that oversees North Carolina's 26,000 lawyers. (Char-O)

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