That may be the amount that Guilford County taxpayers have to shell out for legal fees in the highly publicized City of Greensboro redistricting case four years ago that Guilford County actually had nothing to do with.
On Thursday, Oct. 3, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners plans to move $425,000 into a fund to cover the expense of settling the case – but it’s still anyone’s guess whether the county commissioners have the votes to actually pay out that amount to settle the case. The county could attempt to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
That battle has already gone on for years.
Earlier this year, the US Fourth Circuit of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and ruled that Guilford County must pay the legal fees for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who sued the county. That ruling overturned a decision in early 2018 in which federal Middle District of North Carolina Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that Guilford County wouldn’t be forced to pay the legal fees to the Southern Coalition for the 2015 case it brought against the Guilford County Board of Elections.
In that 2015 redistricting dispute that this lawsuit came out of, the state changed the number of Greensboro City Council districts from five to eight and eliminated the three at-large council seats. The Guilford County Board of Elections was sued because it is the body that holds elections – even though it had nothing to do with the redistricting decision.
The Board of Commissioners’ agenda for the Thursday, Oct. 3 meeting calls for the county to “Increase appropriated fund balance by $425,000 and increase the FY [Fiscal Year] 2019-20 Risk Retention-Liability budget by the same amount in the Internal Services fund to pay for settlement of City of Greensboro, et al. v. Guilford County Board of Elections.”
The commissioners are torn. On one hand, waging a longer legal battle could rack up a very large price tag; however, the commissioners and other county officials are more outraged by the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision than by anything else in recent memory. Several commissioners have said publicly that the idea that the county is being forced to pay legal fees in a case it had nothing to do with is patently absurd.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said this week that there’s a great deal of dissatisfaction among the board with the idea of paying out $425,000
“I am not certain I can ever get comfortable with this payout,” Branson said, adding that some commissioners do prefer to settle.
The chairman also said that Guilford County doesn’t even know how much money it is getting from the state of North Carolina this year until a state budget passes and that is one of many considerations.
“I say we keep fighting,” Branson said. “The only thing is – will it cost more if it’s overturned again?”