The New Hanover County Schools district has signed on as a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the Civitas Center for Law and Freedom (CLF) against the North Carolina attorney general alleging that money from legal settlements with the state was illegally funneled to special interest groups.
Civitas President Francis De Luca said, “The Attorney General’s Office must be held accountable for shortchanging North Carolina schools of funds that are rightfully theirs. By signing on as plaintiffs, New Hanover County school officials have made it clear that they want the attorney general to follow the law and previous court rulings. We are confident the courts will uphold the North Carolina Constitution and stop this ongoing undermining of North Carolina law.”
The original defendant for the lawsuit filed last year was Roy Cooper, in his capacity then as attorney general, but with Cooper’s election as governor, new Attorney General Josh Stein is the defendant. Both are Democrats.
The complaint alleges that under Cooper the Attorney General’s Office violated the North Carolina Constitution and legal precedent set by the state Supreme Court. The suit charges that the AG’s Office funneled payments from Smithfield Foods, Inc. under a court settlement in 2000 to special interest groups and not to education as they properly should have been.
In the 2000 settlement between Smithfield Foods, Inc. and the state, Smithfield Foods agreed to pay the state up to $2 million per year based on the number of hogs the company produced. In 2014, Smithfield paid $1.9 million, in 2015 $1.8 million and last year $2 million.
The suit references a 2005 state Supreme Court decision which ruled that Supplemental Environmental Programs are subject to Article IX section 7 of the state Constitution.
Article IX, Section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution says “all moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to a county school fund, and the clear proceeds of all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”
In the suit, Civitas is asking that the state recover funds disbursed for the last three years to grant recipients over the next three years and a fund be created for the money to be disbursed to the state’s public schools, both conventional and charter schools.
That falls in line with court precedent from the 2005 Supreme Court case. In it, the court ordered that the previous three years of funding be recovered from the Supplemental Environmental Projects at issue in that case.
The Center for Law and Freedom is a nonprofit public interest law firm housed within the Civitas Institute that provides free legal representation to North Carolinians facing governmental violations of their constitutional or other legal rights. CLF represents North Carolinians in cases such as administrative agency actions, constitutional litigation, and transparency lawsuits. The Center is part of the Civitas Institute’s overall mission to implement conservative policy solutions for the benefit of all North Carolinians.