Sunday, November 02, 2008

Roy Cooper for NC Attorney General

The vote I’m most eager to cast Election Day will go to North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper.

He’s been a fair, smart, quietly tough, and outstanding Attorney General whose made the AG’s office a much more effective instrument for justice then when he entered it.

When Cooper became AG in 2001 , the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab he supervises had 5 DNA analysts. It now has 42.

That increase is a major reason we keep reading of cases of individuals wrongly imprisoned now going free because DNA evidence has proved their innocence. The work of those 42 analysts is also helping prevent new wrongful convictions.

During the recent spike in gas prices, Cooper was quick to first warn, and then go after suppliers violating the state’s anti-gouging laws.

While a strong respecter of individuals’ right to bear arms, Cooper’s also advocated for needed limits and checks on gun ownership.

Cooper's not afraid to take on interest groups that favor his own Democratic Party. For example, this year during the primary, the activist group Women's Voices Women Vote launched an illegal robo call program.

Some AGs might have looked the other way. Cooper’s office investigated and wound up assessing the group $100,000 in penalties.

From the Raleigh N&O:

"My office takes quick action against robo calls that don't strictly follow the law," Cooper said, adding that he believes robo callers should honor the Do Not Call Registry, which stops telemarketers, but not campaigns from calling. "If you get illegal telemarketing calls, let my office know about it."
Beginning in January 2007 Cooper’s office conducted a careful review of all evidence in the Duke lacrosse case. It included new interviews with Crystal Mangum whose self-contradicting, wildly improbable charges set in motion what we now know was a frame-up attempt.

At the conclusion of the review, Cooper held a press conference on April 11, 2007. He read a statement which brought honor to himself and his office, and a measure of justice to the framing victims and their families.

Two items conclude my endorsement. The first is a Volokh Conspiracy post by Duke Professor of Law Stuart Benjamin“On Cooper, Nifong and Actual Innocence.” Benjamin published it a few hours after Cooper’s press conference. The second item is a campaign ad Cooper’s run statewide in which he references the Duke case.

Now Professor Benjamin - - -

On Cooper, Nifong, and Actual Innocence:

The rap on Roy Cooper (the North Carolina Attorney General) among my friends who know a good bit about him is that he is overcautious — a smart guy who is too often hesitant and a bit of a plodder.

People I know who followed the investigation closely were confident that Cooper's investigators had concluded that the charges against the lacrosse players were without merit and that the lacrosse players were in fact innocent, but the betting money seemed to be that Cooper would issue a bland statement saying that there wasn't enough evidence to support a trial and leave it at that.

That, after all, is the easy way out — the path of least resistance. He could have said that there was insufficient evidence, and that he would not go beyond that characterization because no further statement about the strength of the evidence was necessary for his decision.

And I imagine that his political advisors probably told him that this would be the politically safe route to take (I can see counter-arguments, but my guess is that would have been their advice).

I find it remarkable, then, that he went so much further, saying that the accused players were in fact innocent, that there was no credible evidence against them, that the accuser's many different statements could not be rectified and that she contradicted herself, etc.

This was not a garden-variety statement about insufficient evidence but instead was about as complete a vindication as the defendants could have imagined. Indeed, I think that Cooper said just about everything that the defendants could have wanted. Cooper must have really been convinced.

One final note: A defense lawyer (or a libertarian) treating this as a cautionary tale about the awesome power of a "rogue prosecutor" to run amok is not a surprise. But an attorney general framing the case that way is more striking.

Not that Nifong didn't deserve this drubbing — just that I wasn't betting on it.