Dear Mr. Fuller:
Thank you for your letter and petitions requesting my views on the issue of government lawsuits and how they affect North Carolina consumers. I appreciate the concerns of your organization and its members and I hope the enclosed response will address some of these issues.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for additional information or discussion of these issues. I can be reached at my campaign office by telephoning (919) 835-2667 or at my Rocky Mount law office by telephoning (252) 442-3115
I look forward to talking with you.
NORTH CAROLINA PETITION: “We understand that the next North Carolina Attorney General will have tremendous power as the chief law enforcement officer. We would like to learn your views about pending government sponsored lawsuits brought on behalf of “consumers.” Please explain your views on lawsuit abuse, in particular, lawsuits brought by government lawyers. We are concerned about negative affects that government-sponsored lawsuits have on consumers.”
COOPER REPLY: During my terms in the state legislature, I have worked hard to protect North Carolina residents from crime, and in particular, from the increase of violent juvenile crime, domestic violence, and school violence. In addition, I have secured basic rights for crime victims and helped end parole for violent offenders.
I plan to continue that advocacy as Attorney General. I will also work to protect consumers from fly-by-night companies and from scam artists who prey on our state’s most vulnerable residents.
However, I will support a new approach to consumer protection. While I will view consumer protection as a top priority in the Department of Justice, I will view government-sponsored lawsuits—both state and federal—as a last resort in securing the best possible protection for state consumers.
Simply put, economic development and good paying jobs are important to North Carolina, and legitimate businesses and industries should be welcomed to grow here. Illegitimate companies that do not deliver what they promise—and that cheat legitimate companies—should be forced out, and I will do everything in my power to hold them to the law.
I plan to accomplish this goal in several ways. First, I will review all pending and future lawsuits brought on behalf of North Carolina consumers. I will only move forward with litigation and continue with pending litigation if I am assured that such action would provide consumers with economic benefits that can be measured. In other words, I will not pursue litigation merely for the sake of proving a point.
Second, I will instruct the staff of the Department of Justice to keep me informed of their actions, and I will allow them to move forward with litigation only when we have explored all options available, including negotiation and discussion. I intend to be integrally involved in many of the operations of the department.
Finally,I will maintain the open-door policy I established during my tenure at the state legislature and I will welcome differing opinions and give them equal attention. I know that I will need to hear from all sides before making any decision, large or small.
I share with you concerns about the ongoing litigation regarding the Microsoft Corporation and North Carolina’s participation in the lawsuit. This lawsuit may be one of the most complicated in history. It may also be one of the most far reaching. Therefore, I plan to spend time with staff attorneys examining whether the breakup of the country’s most successful software developer is best for North Carolina consumers. At this time, I am not convinced that this is the correct course of action for North Carolina, particularly considering the important precedent it sets.
Software development and sales are among North Carolina’s fastest growing industries, and I don’t want to stymie that success. The success of the software industry and of the Internet has helped transform some portion of our state from agricultural- and textile-dependent regions to high-tech centers that are the envy of the nation.
Let me be clear in telling you that I intend to continue to pursue my efforts to stop the marketing of pornography to children to stop predators who target children through the Internet for unlawful acts. However, I am also aware that the Internet has brought great economic prosperity thus far on its own and I believe that this growth should continue to be encouraged.
As Attorney General I will pursue every option available to me in order to foster a thriving business climate while at the same time protecting and educating consumers. I have always believed in my own personal law practice that litigation should be a last resort.
There will be times when there may be no other choice. For example, Republican Attorney General Charles Condon recently filed suit against tire manufacturer Firestone for putting South Carolina last on a list of Southern states slated to receive replacement tires for Ford Explorers. In that instance, Mr. Condon said he believed that the lives and well being of South Carolinians were at risk, and that he felt that a lawsuit was in the best interest of South Carolina consumers.
Without knowing all the facts at issue I can neither agree nor disagree with him, but that case illustrates a circumstance in which a government lawsuit may have been the only remedy available to protect consumers.
In conclusion, please know that I am well aware of and sympathetic to the question you raised, and that I share your concerns. Government lawsuits should neither stifle economic development nor burden taxpayers with unneeded expense.
It is in all our best interests to avoid them and to work for affordable, acceptable alternatives that protect consumers and encourage freedom of innovation.