Four North Carolina voters can pursue their libel lawsuit against allies of former Gov. Pat McCrory and a Virginia law firm that tried to help the Republican politician’s unsuccessful effort to disqualify votes and win re-election in 2016, attorneys learned Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour notified attorneys he’s decided to allow the four plaintiffs to continue their claims against the Pat McCrory Committee Legal Defense Fund, the Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky law firm and four of the Warrenton, Virginia-based firm’s attorneys. The McCrory allies helped mount a last-ditch effort to sway a close election for governor by accusing voters in 52 counties of double voting and other misdeeds.
The voters from Guilford and Brunswick counties sued after being falsely accused of felony voting crimes like casting ballots in multiple states.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys had sought last fall to expand their lawsuit to include “all North Carolina voters falsely accused by defendants of committing felony voter fraud in connection with the 2016 general election.” But Baddour decided only the individual voters could advance.
“We are gratified that the court has recognized that falsely accused North Carolina voters have the right to move forward to seek redress from political committees and lawyers who would seek to manipulate the voting process in our state,” attorney Press Millen said in an email.
The case may be among the first voter defamation cases of its kind, election law experts said when the case was filed last year. McCrory fund attorney Philip Isley said last month that he hasn’t found a similar class-action lawsuit by voters alleging they were defamed anywhere in the country.
Isley declined comment on Baddour’s decision. Attorneys for Holtzman Vogel and its four attorneys involved in the voter challenges did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit contends the McCrory allies should be punished for wrongly accusing the plaintiffs of felony voting crimes. The Holtzman Vogel firm helped the McCrory postelection effort and prepared most of the voter challenges filed in the name of local residents, the suing voters contend.
Virtually all the Republican-sponsored challenges to the voters’ qualifications were rejected by the GOP-controlled state elections board a week after McCrory asked for a statewide recount, citing “serious concerns of potential voter fraud emerging across the state.” McCrory continued the failed effort to overcome an Election Day deficit at the polls for nearly a month before conceding to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.