Easley hires defense attorney

December 16, 2009 10:57:55 PM PST
Sources say former Governor Mike Easley has hired defense attorney Joe Cheshire to defend him against any criminal charges.Legal experts believe Joe Cheshire's hiring is proof Easley is taking possible criminal charges seriously.

"Joe Cheshire is more than competent and highly capable," former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said.

Cheshire's clients also include a list of prominent politicians like former congressman Frank Balance who eventually pleaded guilty to misusing state funds and most recently longtime state Senator RC Soles who allegedly shot a man at his home last summer.

"Joe has few equals in the state of North Carolina," Shanahan said. "He's a proven lawyer, he's a great tactician, but in the courtroom in front of jury he is really a superior lawyer."

Cheshire's hiring comes as a special prosecutor is looking into accusations of campaign finance violations by the Easley campaign, and a federal grand jury met again Wednesday.

It's probing land deals, free cars provided to the Easley family, free flights from campaign contributors and a high paying job for the then first lady Mary Easley at NC State.

Three workers at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources testified this week. Investigators want to know if state employees were influenced to fast-track permits for developers connected to the former governor.

In October, Easley and dozens of others within his inner circle testified before the state elections board.

Shanahan says Easley's words during that hearing will likely make Cheshire's job during a federal probe difficult.

"Federal prosecutors will look at that against the evidence they have and to the extent that there are inconsistencies," Shanahan said. "The more prudent thing for former governor Easley to have done would have been not to testify."

Easley's former attorney, Ruffin Poole, is scheduled to testify Thursday before the board of elections.

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