Lawyer for ‘business leaders’ denies misrepresentation of NC Chamber’s position on Leandro

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  • A lawyer representing a group of N.C. "business leaders" says the group never tried to misrepresent the NC Chamber's support for plaintiffs in the Leandro school funding case.
  • The group has removed the name of the NC Chamber's chair from its list of supporters. Its friend-of-the-court brief to the N.C. Supreme Court now explains that all supporters are speaking as individuals, not as representatives of particular businesses or other groups.

A lawyer representing a group of N.C. “business leaders” denies that the group ever tried to misrepresent the NC Chamber’s support for plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit.

The lawyer’s email Wednesday to the N.C. Supreme Court’s clerk responded to a letter Tuesday from Ray Starling, NC Chamber general counsel. Starling accused the “business leaders” group of failing to get permission from Sepi Saidi to use her name among a list of more than 50 supporters in a friend-of-the-court brief. The group listed the wrong last name for Saidi.

Starling also objected to the brief listing Saidi’s role as NC Chamber chair. His letter suggested use of that title “seems calculated to create confusion for the Court, if not outright misrepresentation.” The NC Chamber is taking no position in the latest Leandro dispute.

Attorney John Wester’s email to the state’s highest court addressed Starling’s concerns.

“This was our first indication of any issue regarding Ms. Saidi’s participation,” Wester wrote. “Of course, we do not want to include any business leaders who did not wish to be listed and had no intention of doing so.”

Wester also discussed the NC Chamber’s link to the “business leaders” brief. “Our brief neither states nor implies that the NC Chamber has taken any position on our brief,” he wrote. “Mr. Starling identifies no indication that the NC Chamber has supported our brief, and the title of the addendum to our brief is ‘Business Leaders Who Submit the Brief.’”

“To be clear, as our motion and brief indicate, the Business Leaders brief is filed on behalf of individuals, not any businesses, boards, agencies, or other entities,” Wester added.

An amended appendix removed Saidi’s name. It explained that the listed business leaders “are submitting the brief as individuals, not on behalf of any businesses or organizations with which they are or have been associated.”

The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Aug. 31 in the latest stage of the Leandro case, officially titled Hoke County Board of Education v. State.

Justices will decide whether a trial judge could order the state to spend an additional $785 million on items linked to a court-sanctioned Leandro comprehensive remedial plan.

The state’s highest court also will decide whether a judge can bypass the General Assembly and order other state officials to transfer the $785 million out of the state treasury.

Starling’s letter had referenced the significance of the court’s decision. “[T]he 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,” he wrote.