Home » Uncategorized » Some brief reflections on the Boyce v. Cooper settlement

Some brief reflections on the Boyce v. Cooper settlement

            The surprise settlement of the 14-year-old libel suit that Dan Boyce and his family filed against Attorney General Roy Cooper and some of his campaign staffers is mostly, but not entirely, good news.

            It’s certainly good news for the parties, their lawyers and the judges and administrators of North Carolina’s court system, all of whom have devoted far too much time and energy to a case that never should have been filed or that should have been dismissed or settled a long time ago. The settlement spares everyone involved of the uncertainty and stress of one or more trials and who knows how many ensuing appeals.

            It’s especially good news for the plaintiffs, who got something from Cooper they never could have gotten from the courts: an apology, albeit of the kind that my mother, who spoke primarily in Southern aphorisms and metaphors, might have called “left-handed” or “a pretty sorry ‘sorry.’” No matter how you characterize it, the Boyces and the Isleys can crow about it if they want to, and some of them surely will.

            It’s also particularly good news for Attorney General Cooper, because it defuses a potentially explosive mine from the road to the 2016 gubernatorial election and enhances the likelihood that he will be able to pre-empt the field of potential Democratic candidates.

            It’s bad news for people for whom fiercely contested courtroom battles are a favorite form of free entertainment. A trial would have featured some of North Carolina’s most skilled, experienced and – particularly in the case of Dan Boyce’s father, Eugene Boyce – colorful attorneys going toe-to-toe over complex issues of First Amendment law.

            Finally, the settlement also is bad news for the state of libel law in North Carolina, because it forever forecloses any opportunity for the North Carolina Supreme Court to repudiate and correct an egregiously wrong decision by a panel of the state’s Court of Appeals in 2002. That decision, which misinterpreted and misapplied well-settled principles of North Carolina defamation law, overruled a trial judge’s dismissal of the Boyce v. Cooper case and set it on the tortuous, expensive and needless journey that finally ended with the unexpected settlement. It also injected uncertainty and confusion into the field of North Carolina libel law, which already was arcane and complex and did not need additional the additional aggravation provided by the panel’s wrong-headed opinion. Despite widespread criticism of the decision at the time, the state’s highest court declined to review and correct it then, and has now lost forever the chance to do so.   Thus, as I wrote ten years ago, in the North Carolina Law Review, the Court of Appeals’ opinion

. . . promises to become a peculiarly dangerous specimen of legal jetsam, cast adrift on the sea of the law and presenting serious hazards for judges and litigants who attempt to navigate the already confounding currents of North Carolina defamation law.


  1. Gene Boyce says:

    Hugh: you forgot (carelessly or intentionally) to tell folks that the U.S. Supreme Court TWICE denied Cooper’s effort to get them to go along with your idea of what is defamation and what is free speech.
    The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest and final authority on the First Amendment. You even gave a “Amicus Affidavit” and was a participant in numerous appeals of the case. Half a lie is as bad as a whole one.
    “And it’s not just that you lied; the problem is we can never believe you again.” Frederick Nietzshe, 1887.

    • Hugh Stevens says:

      You must be hard up for something to do if you have time to read and comment on my blog, but I appreciate your doing so. I have enabled your comment to be posted on my blog.

      It certainly is no surprise to hear that I have no credibility with you, because the reverse is equally true.

      • Gene Boyce says:

        Hugh: then why did you leave out the FACT that you and Cooper and his 14 lawyers lost eight (8) appeals to all 3 Appellate Courts and all trial courts but the first one.

        You are keeping this slander going in 2015 (and ?? 2016 and beyond) not me. As Sen. McCain noted only “low life scums” engage in public conduct that some folks approve.

        Have a good weekend. Will be delighted to continue the discussion if you don’t hide it. Thanks for publishing this one too. Gene B.

      • Hugh Stevens says:

        I have “approved” your new comment, but I am not going to waste my time carrying on an endless and futile argument. Get over it.

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