Senate Votes to Bar “Sue-and-Settle” Schemes After Secret Settlement Deal Changed State Election Law
Bill would require sign-off from legislature to settle suits to which the legislature is a party
Last year, AG Stein and Dem Elections Director secretly negotiated and settled with Dem Party lawyer to change election laws after voting began
Legislators concerned the same behavior could happen again
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Senate today passed legislation to bar the type of “sue-and-settle” schemes that resulted in mid-election law changes last year. Sens. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus), Warren Daniel (R-Burke), and Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) sponsored the legislation, Senate Bill 360, “Prohibit Collusive Settlements by the Attorney General.” The bill passed by a margin of 28–21.
The measure would require sign-off from legislative leaders on any deal settling a lawsuit to which the legislature is a party.
Sen. Newton, who co-chairs the Senate Elections Committee, said, “Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell and Attorney General Josh Stein behaved so egregiously and improperly last year that they’ve lost the trust of many voters and legislators. Director Brinson Bell wouldn’t even acknowledge that she changed state law last year, even though federal judges and reporters have maintained that she did.”
Newton continued, “This bill is intended to make sure no elections director, whether Ms. Brinson Bell or anyone else, ever has the power to secretly execute a mid-election law change via secret settlement with political allies.”
The legislation prevents state agencies from circumventing the lawmaking process and changing laws through settlements with friendly plaintiffs.
Last year, after voting had already begun, the Executive Director of the Democratic Party-controlled N.C. State Board of Elections, Karen Brinson Bell, and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein secretly negotiated with the national Democratic Party’s top lawyer, Marc Elias, to reach a “settlement” deal that changed election laws after voting began.
(Elias was recently sanctioned for ethics violations by a Texas federal court.)
The negotiations among allied parties took place in secret and cut out the North Carolina General Assembly, which was a co-defendant in the case.
Multiple federal judges excoriated Director Brinson Bell and Attorney General Stein for their conduct (“In all candor, this court cannot conceive of a more problematic conflict…”) and concluded that the pair had changed state law through their secretive settlement.
But when questioned about her conduct during a Senate committee hearing, Director Brinson Bell refused to even acknowledge that reality and explained away her actions by saying, “The rules were changed, but the laws were not changed.”
Last week, lawmakers wrote Director Brinson Bell asking her to affirm that she would not enter into future secretive settlement deals. She declined to make such an affirmation.
Director Brinson Bell has lost the trust of many voters, and many legislators have no confidence in Director Brinson Bell to act impartially in her role as elections director.