Saturday, September 12, 2009

North Carolina State Bar taking taxpayers for a ride

I enjoyed John Drescher’s column in today’s (Saturday, September 12, 2009) News & Observer titled “Open is best for NCSU.” It talks about how UNC System President Erskine Bowles should open the selection process of the next NCSU chancellor position to the public. He should then follow-up with a column titled, “Open is best for the State Bar.” As it is well known, the North Carolina State Bar is a state agency that is shrouded in mystery and secrecy, and what makes this worse is that it is an unregulated agency. They are not regulated, there is no oversight, and they are accountable to no one. Compounding this problem is the fact that they ride roughshod over the state’s attorneys, all of whom are terrorized and fear this organization… and for good reason because their actions are arbitrary, can be retaliatory and are not applied equally. The disbarment of Mike Nifong, the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the State Bar since its inception in 1933, is a prime example. For an attorney, ending up on the bad side of the Bar can lead to disbarment, whether it is warranted or not. Therefore, attorneys throughout the state are afraid to publicly make statements favorable to Mike Nifong or statements in favor of the reinstatement of Mr. Nifong’s law license.

The reason the newspaper should have its investigative reporters delve into the goings on with the State Bar is because the Bar recently was given the ability to borrow money and act as a business by House Bill 360 which Governor Perdue signed into law. I believe this will lead to abuse, profiteering, and enrichment of the Bar elite at taxpayer expense. Very alarming is the article which also appeared in today’s (Saturday, September 12, 2009) newspaper titled “State Bar gets site for HQ. How can the state allow the State Bar to build its own building? Shouldn’t that be the province of the state to provide space for the bar? If the Department of Transportation wants or needs more space, can it build itself a building, too? Shouldn’t the people or taxpayers have a say in what is built, and aren’t there regulations in place for construction of state buildings? Doesn’t a bidding process need to be followed for the design and construction of the building?

It seems as though the Bar has already hired a Winston-Salem architectural firm of Calloway Johnson Moore & West to design the building. Is this legal or proper? Was the design open to other architectural firms to submit designs and compete for the position? Most likely, the architectural firm slipped the State Bar elite money or some incentive, or the firm partner is a crony of some State Bar elite.

The article states that the State Bar “hopes to realize ‘several million dollars’ from the sale of its current building…” My question is, does the State Bar own the current building, or is it owned by the State of North Carolina? If the answer is the latter, then we taxpayers should not be subsidizing a building in which we have no input nor benefit. Also, at the end of the sentence explaining how the building will be paid, it states that “borrowed money” will be used. Again, the question is who is going to borrow the money and be held liable for payment of the interest and repayment of the principle? The State Bar (from its membership dues), or the taxpayers?

Also, if a state run parking lot is the future site for this building, and I assume that the parking lot is bringing in a profit, why shouldn’t the State Bar lease the property for at least the amount of annual income earned by the parking lot? Leasing the property to the State Bar for one dollar ($1.00) per year for 99 years is ridiculous and it is a terrible deal for the taxpayers. Who approved the lease deal anyway?

Another issue an investigative reporter should look into is the conflict of interest which is apparent when legislator/attorneys vote on bills brought before the General Assembly that are beneficial to the State Bar. I believe that ethics rules in the State Bar even require legislator/attorneys to recuse themselves in such bill. However, there was only one “no” vote in the General Assembly against H.B. 360, and almost all of the members of the Assembly (the majority who are attorneys) voted for the bill.

Most definitely, the North Carolina State Bar should open up and come clean with the people of North Carolina and stop sneaking around when conducting business. Furthermore, the General Assembly and Governor should stop treating the State Bar like a privileged agency. The State Bar should not be determining how to resolve its alleged shortage of space… that is a job for the state, through the General Assembly to address and assure that rules and regulations already in place are followed.

While at it, investigators and auditors should also look into the number of personnel working for the Bar. I am sure that the agency could function more efficiently if some of the positions, mainly high level executive, were cut.

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