The state’s largest business lobbying group is crying foul at tactics employed by a group of “business leaders” supporting plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit.
A letter from the NC Chamber’s general counsel delivered Tuesday to the N.C. Supreme Court accuses the “business leaders” of misrepresentation. The letter claims that the Chamber’s chair was included among the list of “leaders” without her permission. It also objects to the use of the NC Chamber’s name.
Self-described “recognized leaders in the North Carolina business community” filed a friend-of-the-court brief on July 27. The brief listed names of more than 50 people. Each purportedly supported Leandro plaintiffs’ desire to have a trial judge order the transfer of $785 million from the state treasury for education-related purposes.
The letter from Ray Starling, NC Chamber general counsel, documented one clear error.
“I write today to inform the Court that the inclusion of at least one of those individuals was wrong and without authorization, and to respectfully request that the Court ensure that its records reflect the deletion of that individual’s name and any suggestion that the NC Chamber or its officers have taken a position in this matter,” Starling wrote.
The second name listed among the business leaders is “Sepi Asefnia, President & CEO, Sepi Engineering Inc., Chair, NC Chamber.”
Starling’s letter indicates that the brief listed the wrong name for Sepi Saidi, the NC Chamber’s current chair.
“Unfortunately, not only was the name used to reference Ms. Saidi inaccurate, so was her inclusion in the project in the first place,” Starling wrote. “Ms. Saidi had a single, five-to-six-minute conversation with Mr. Tom Bradshaw on June 29, 2022. Her principal observation was that Mr. Bradshaw was looking for financial support of an initiative to support education.”
“She did not engage, nor ever even speak with legal counsel, nor did she authorize participation in a legal filing, much less one in which the novel and profoundly important issue at stake is whether as few as four Justices of the NC Supreme Court on Morgan Street may appropriate taxpayer funds, an authority heretofore exclusively the province of our 170 elected legislators on Jones Street.”
Starling labeled “equally as troubling” the fact that the listing included a reference to Saidi’s NC Chamber title.
“The inclusion of this title seems calculated to create confusion for the Court, if not outright misrepresentation,” Starling wrote. “The NC Chamber had expressly stated to those organizing the amici [friend-of-the-court] effort that the NC Chamber would not appear in the case.”
Bradshaw, a former Raleigh mayor and former chair of both Raleigh and statewide chamber of commerce groups, spoke with the NC Chamber’s “education lead,” Debra Derr, on or about July 11. Derr informed Bradshaw that the chamber would not take part in the “business leaders” group. On July 18, Derr copied Bradshaw on an email confirming that information, according to Starling’s letter.
Yet on July 21, Gerry Hancock, an attorney associated with the “business leaders” brief, contacted Saidi by email. Hancock asked for confirmation of Saidi’s participation and for a $1,000 contribution for legal fees.
“The proposed brief was not attached to the e-mail, nor did Ms. Saidi respond to it. Yet counsel for the amici barreled on,” Starling wrote. “They ignored the communication from Ms. Derr only three days earlier and failed to undertake even the most menial attempt to clarify the NC Chamber’s desire to participate, and ultimately wrongly asserted to the Court that they represented Ms. Saidi based on a short conversation with a lay person and an email from a stranger.”
No one from the “business leaders” group ever contacted Starling, he wrote, despite the fact that “I am heavily involved in any instance in which the NC Chamber participates in litigation.”
“I also serve as President of the NC Chamber Legal Institute (the CLI), which is governed by a separate board with specific processes in place for determining when and if the CLI will appear as amicus or otherwise participate in litigation,” Starling added. “No amici party or counsel contacted me – ever – regarding the NC Chamber or CLI’s participation in this case.”
The NC Chamber and Saidi “respectfully request that any references to them be struck from the brief,” Starling wrote.
The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Aug. 31 in the Leandro case, officially known as Hoke County Board of Education v. State.