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Roy Cooper, Pat McCrory spar on voting lawsuit

Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday that it is an “unnecessary expense” for Gov. Pat McCrory to hire an outside attorney to represent North Carolina against the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging the state’s new voting law. “Our office continues to have the primary responsibility to defend the state,” Cooper told reporters. “Our staff will continue to do that.”

The Democrat’s remarks sparked a political blame game about how the state is defending the lawsuit – one with implications for 2016, when Cooper is considering challenging the Republican governor.

Responding to Cooper’s remarks, Bob Stephens, McCrory’s chief legal counsel, said the cost “falls squarely at the feet of the attorney general.”

Redistricting plaintiffs ask for Newby recusal

Democrats, the state NAACP, and other nonprofits who are suing over redistricting plans want Supreme Court Judge Paul Newby to recuse himself from participating in the case.

They filed a motion Wednesday saying that individuals and political groups with a direct stake in the outcome of the redistricting case spent heavily to support his re-election, and their support "had a significant and disproportionate influence in Justice Newby's victory."

GOP leaders granted stay on redistricting documents

Legislative leaders won't have to turn over the information their lawyers produced on redistricting right away, a three-judge panel said.

Last month, the judges decided in favor the Democrats and non-profits seeking redistricting information from the private lawyers House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger, and  Senate redistricting Chairman Bob Rucho hired.

Republican lawyers' redistricting documents are public record, judges say

A three-judge panel hearing a redistricing lawsuit ruled that  private lawyers who legislative Republicans paid with taxpayer money must make their redistricting documents public.

Lawyers for Democrats and non-profits suing over the redistricting plans sought documents used to prepare the redistricting maps. The three-judge panel ruled Friday that the documents private lawyers produced are public record.

After the redistricting maps become law, all information requests to legislative employees and documents prepared by legislative employees on redistricting matters become public record.

Lawyers for Democrats and the non-profits fighting the redistricting plans also wanted to see information prepared by private lawyers Thomas Farr and Michael Carvin, private lawyers GOP legislative leaders hired to give them redistricting advice.

Their law firms are legislative employees, the three-judge panel, because they each served as consultants and counsel to legislators and were paid with state money.

Taxpayer bill for redistricting so far: $695,049

The North Carolina legislature has paid $695,049 since March 11, 2011 in legal fees for advise on redistricting – far more than has ever been paid in the past, the Associated Press reports.

The state paid $131,475 in similar legal fees during the redistricting process that began in 2001, AP reported.

The legal fees, which ranged from $245 per hour to $825 per hour, were largely paid to two law firms.

About $570,981 of the fees went to Ogletree Deakins, a South Carolina based firm with offices in Raleigh. That firm includes Tom Farr, a Raleigh attorney who is an expert on redistricting. He represented the state Republican Party and other GOP plaintiffs challenging the Democratic plan a year ago. Another member of the firm is Phil Strach, a former legal counsel to the state GOP.

The legislature also hired the Jones Day firm in Washington to help get the new maps approved by the courts and the U.S. Justice Department. It was paid $124,067.

Itemized invoices also show payments made to the law firms to outside consultants. Through Ogletree Deakins, taxpayers paid GOP redistricting expert Thomas Hofeller $50,163 from April through November, Laura Leslie of WRAL reported. Hofeller has directed redistricting efforts for the Republican National Committee for the past three cycles. Also paid through the firm was Thomas Brunell, who received $15,000. Brunell is a political science professor at the University of Texas and the author the 2008 book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.”

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)

GOP pushes for hearing on nominees

Republicans have brought work on the U.S. Senate floor to a grinding crawl this afternoon to protest the delay of judicial nominees, including Raleigh lawyer Thomas A. Farr.

In a procedural roadblock, Senate Republicans are forcing the clerk to read aloud the bill being debated on the floor, which happens to be the massive climate change legislation. It runs nearly 500 pages.

While the clerk drones on, staffers are scrambling to come up with a deal that would allow hearings on a group of federal judicial nominees, reports Barb Barrett.

Farr was nominated Dec. 7, 2006 by President Bush for a seat in the Eastern District of the U.S. District Court. Farr is the longest-pending nominee without a hearing, according to Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s office.

Dole spoke on Farr’s behalf today in a closed-door policy meeting, then spent a 20-minute rotation on the Senate floor keeping the protest going.

Dole: Confirm Conrad, Farr

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole encourages her colleagues to confirm judicial nominees Thomas Farr and Robert Conrad on the floor of the Senate today.

Burr: Confirm Conrad to Fourth Circuit

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr urged his colleagues to act on the nomination of Robert J. Conrad to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, spoke on the Senate floor this afternoon, Barb Barrett reports.

President Bush nominated Conrad to the post in July 2007, 300 days ago, according to Burr’s office. Conrad now is a federal judge for the western district of North Carolina.

"Bob Conrad is a capable and qualified nominee, and there is no reason why the Senate should continue to drag its feet on his confirmation," Burr said.

Burr's colleague, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, then called on the Senate to confirm Conrad and Thomas A. Farr.

"Bob Conrad is recognized as a judge and judicial scholar of the first order ... by the attorneys who've appeared before him and the judges with whom he works," she said.

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