Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH -- In early May 2002 Ernie Pearson, the N.C. Northeast Partnership lawyer, informed Rick Watson about legal expenses from the CropTech deal. The partnership, a public agency established by the state that should have the free services of the attorney general at its disposal, paid $8,129.39 as of May 2, at which time Pearson billed the partnership another $1,785 "to assist in overcoming concerns raised by Commerce Secretary Jim Fain and to finalize the [agreement]."
Pearson billed the partnership at $250 per hour, and his partner Robert Jessup billed at $200 per hour.
Watson also requested that Pearson bill the Northeast Partnership for future services related to CropTech, which the lawyer acknowledged in a letter to Watson.
"You have also asked me to provide to you a flat fee invoice which would liberally cover all fees paid to date, plus anticipated future fees," Pearson wrote. "Attached is that invoice."
The unitemized invoice for "anticipated future fees" was $21,000.
Likewise Mike and Cathy Scott, consultants for Watson, billed the Northeast Partnership $7,597.75 for work related to the CropTech deal. The Scotts charged $70 per hour for 101 and a half-hoursí work, plus almost $500 for mileage.
Watson, prior to CropTechís South Carolina announcement, asked the Tobacco Trust Fund if it would pay some of the partnershipís expenses of $17,500 related to the failed deal. The commission voted June 11 to pay the partnership $8,750.
But the Northeast Partnership on July 25 invoiced the Tobacco Trust Commission for $28,597.75. Included as supporting documentation for the bill was the unitemized invoice of $21,000 from Pearsonís law firm for "anticipated future fees" related to CropTech. Little, if any, of those future services were needed, but Watson billed the Tobacco Trust for them anyway.
On June 12 William Upchurch, executive director of the Tobacco Trust, informed Watson that because Gov. Mike Easley was taking Tobacco Trust money to balance the budget, he was doubtful about future opportunities to fund business projects. Watson appealed to Sen. Marc Basnightís assistant, Rolf Blizzard.
"Rolf, this is about the only fund left (where) we can get money to close deals," Watson wrote, "and they really have a lot of confidence in you and our group. Can you help?"
"I canít do anything about what the governor does," Blizzard answered. "Having strong successes like CropTech would help to ameliorate things. Now we donít have that success and that leverage. Donít know that we have any further options at this point."
Chesser is an associate editor at Carolina Journal.