Local district attorney files bar complaint Against Attorney General Stein

Attorney General Josh Stein speaks in Raleigh in this file photo. N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH — District Attorney Mike Hardin (R-Moore/Hoke) has lodged a formal complaint against state Attorney General Josh Stein with the N.C. State Bar, alleging a conflict of interest in Stein’s representation of him and other district attorneys in a lawsuit. 

The complaint stems from a 2020 lawsuit initiated by the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and Action NC against Stein. The groups sought an injunction against the enforcement of a state statute that prohibits convicted felons from voting until their citizenship rights have been reinstated. In response to the lawsuit, Stein’s office moved to dismiss the case, contending that the Attorney General was not the appropriate party for the lawsuit. The motion stated, “The Attorney General has never been called upon to defend a conviction under this statute nor has he ever issued an Attorney General Opinion on this statute.” 

In February 2021, APRI amended its complaint, excluding the Attorney General and incorporating all N.C. district attorneys, including Hardin, as defendants. In court filings, APRI stated that “after extensive briefing and negotiation” with the Attorney General’s office, APRI agreed to replace the Attorney General and add the state’s district attorneys. Hardin’s complaint alleges the Attorney General’s office did not inform the state’s district attorneys of the negotiation or that they were being sued. This move, Hardin believes, has led to potential conflicts of interest. 

In one of the communications cited in the complaint, the Attorney General’s Office told Hardin, “We believe that the Attorney General’s Office can continue to represent you and the other district attorneys in this matter without a conflict.” Despite this assurance, Hardin’s concerns persisted. 

According to the State Bar, the organization that regulates the practice of law, “All North Carolina lawyers must follow a code of ethics called the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.” The State Bar oversees the investigation and, if deemed necessary, the prosecution of lawyers who deviate from these rules. The disciplinary process is initiated when allegations of potential professional misconduct are brought against lawyers. Grievances, or formal complaints, can be initiated by anyone, from clients and lawyers to judges and the general public. Once a grievance is lodged, it undergoes a review process. If there’s probable cause to believe a violation transpired, the grievance is escalated to the State Bar’s Grievance Committee. Based on the findings, the case might be further referred to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission (DHC) for additional proceedings. 

Hardin’s complaint outlines his interactions with the Attorney General’s Office, underscoring his escalating concerns about potential conflicts of interest. According to a copy of the complaint obtained by North State Journal, Hardin believes that Stein’s initial role as a defendant, followed by his subsequent recommendation to include the district attorneys as defendants, raises ethical questions. 

In email communications included with the complaint, Hardin expressed his reservations about Stein’s office representing him in the case, saying, “Given the history and status of the case, I believe there’s an undeniable conflict of interest in your representation.” 

Hardin’s complaint alleges Stein violated four separate rules of professional conduct, including rules that bar attorneys from making decisions in a lawsuit based on the interests of other clients and revealing confidential information. 

According to his complaint, Hardin’s goal is to have the State Bar declare a conflict of interest in further representation by Stein. 

Stein’s office has not issued a public response to the complaint and has not yet responded to a request for comment from North State Journal.