Morgan Gets State Help on Legal Costs
State House Speaker Pro Tem Richard Morgan will receive state funds to pay legal fees incurred in his response to a grand jury subpoena.
The subpoena seeks to question Morgan as part of an investigation into Morgan's political ally, House Speaker Jim Black.
Morgan, a Moore County Republican, says the scope of the research required for his testimony before a federal grand jury requires legal assistance.
"Considering the broad scope of the subpoena," he said, "I certainly consider it appropriate and not anything new."
Morgan has been subpoenaed for grand jury testimony in connection with inquiries into the campaign fundraising and legislative activities of Black. The subpoena also covers information about contributions made by a tobacco company that donated funds to Morgan's campaign chest and to the campaigns of other moderate Republican lawmakers.
Black and Senate Leader Marc Basnight have now authorized the payment of any legal fees Morgan incurs while responding to the subpoena.
Under an ethics law adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly earlier this year, legislative leaders may authorize funding for legal fees in such situations. Attorney General Roy Coop-er and Gov. Mike Easley have already approved fees for a private attorney representing Black and his staff.
Morgan first applied to the attorney general's office for legal assistance.
"Obviously I didn't have to ask the attorney general for representation, but it was the courteous thing to do," Morgan said. "They wrote back that it would be a conflict."
Traditionally, this is the route taken by state officials needing legal representation for public matters. But in this case, the attorney general's office is involved in the investigation of Black's office and related issues.
Steve Smith, a Raleigh attorney, is representing Morgan in this matter and other issues.
Morgan said Wednesday that the date for his appearance before the grand jury has not been set and that he has turned these details over to Smith. It was Smith who secured a postponement for Morgan's appearance before the grand jury. The subpoena originally set a November date, but the appearance has been rescheduled for later in December.
"You have to go through an awful lot of records," Morgan said of the subpoena process.
He has been asked to supply a large number of records and other documents from his office, as well as to testify before the grand jury.
No charges have been filed against Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, but authorities have been eyeing his office ever since a former legislator, Michael Decker of Forsyth County, entered a guilty plea to a federal conspiracy charge.
Decker told authorities that he accepted $50,000 in cash and checks and a legislative job for his son as part of a deal in which he agreed to switch his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat in 2003. This resulted in a shift in partisan balance in the state House, a change that enabled Black to hang on to his position as House speaker.
Because the balance of power was so close, however, the House, for the first time in state history, elected two speakers. Black and Morgan then shared co-speakership duties for the 2003 and 2004 sessions. Decker later switched back to the Republican Party but was defeated in his party primary a year later.
The federal subpoena indicates that investigators want information from Morgan about his relationship with Black. The subpoena also mentions a $100,000 contribution made by S&M tobacco company to a political group supporting Morgan.
In addition to the Decker situation, Black is being questioned about his relationship with a former staff member who was also serving as a lobbyist for a company seeking a state lottery contract.
Morgan's request for state legal funding does not include a private suit that he has brought against a political lobbying organization.
He is considering filing a suit in Superior Court concerning what he regards as illegal maneuvering by the lobbying organization and other political operatives.
He lost out in a complaint filed with the State Board of Elections but cannot proceed to Superior Court until the SBOE completes its paperwork on the initial complaint.
In 2004, the Democrats regained a majority in the House. They elected Black as speaker, who appointed Morgan, his former co-speaker, to serve as speaker pro tem.
Morgan lost his re-election bid in the May primary but continues to serve as a state representative until the legislature convenes in January for the 2007 session.
That's when his successor, Joe Boylan, will be sworn into office as representative of House District 52.
Black was recently declared winner of a close race for his Mecklenburg County seat in the House. Because of legal issues he faces and the closeness of the election, his return to the speakership appears to be on shaky ground in the new session.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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