Many Guilford County officials and Guilford County taxpayers were extremely displeased – to say the very least – with the news that the US Fourth Circuit of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and ruled that Guilford County must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice [SCSJ] in a lawsuit that really did not involve the county.
In early 2018, federal Middle District of North Carolina Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that Guilford County wouldn’t be forced to pay over $600,000 in legal fees to the Southern Coalition for a 2015 case brought against the Guilford County Board of Elections. In the 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 subsequently sued because it is the body that holds elections – even though it had nothing to do with the redistricting decision.
One Guilford County official who asked not to be named this week said the fact that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued this decision suggests that the court is saying that the Guilford County Board of Elections should have violated the law by holding the election with districts other than those determined by law.
“What was the elections board supposed to do?” he asked.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne stated this week that the county asked the NC Attorney General to step in when the lawsuit was filed.
“We specifically requested the AG to step in and defend the action and they declined,” Payne wrote in an email. “Further, we filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to name a necessary party, i.e., the State, for the very reason that we could not put up a defense for the State. The SCSJ opposed our motion and the Judge declined to name the State as a necessary party; rather, she found the State was a proper party if they entered the case but not a necessary one.”
He added that that ruling was due to a ruling in another case involving the Wake County Board of Elections.
Regardless of how Guilford County got here, many are saying it’s absurd that the county should be stuck with the huge legal bill. Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said this week that the decision made no sense whatsoever since the county was not an interested party and never even weighed in on the dispute between Greensboro and the state.
The Middle District of North Carolina court will now determine how much of the $600,000-plus legal bill the county will have to pay. Though the exact amount isn’t known, everyone expects it to be very large.
One disgusted poster on Facebook wrote, “They will just pass this on to the taxpayer to pay as usual.” Another called the Fourth Circuit court’s decision “Asinine,” and another wrote that it’s “BS” and argued that the county should appeal.
“Take it to the Supreme Court!” he wrote.