A coalition of media companies, including WNCN, have sued Gov. Pat McCrory and his cabinet members, saying that North Carolina officials have violated the state’s Public Records Law.
North Carolina officials are required under the law to produce public documents. The media companies allege that the state has not been prompt at fulfilling requests for information.“Since Gov. McCrory took office in January 2013, he and his Cabinet have violated the Public Records Law regularly and repeatedly,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit stated that McCrory’s administration has:
• Failed to respond to requests promptly
• Imposed “unjustified fees for copies of public records”
• Failed to provide copies in a timely manner
• Denied or concealed public records
“The defendants’ behaviors suggest, and therefore plaintiffs believe and allege, that some or all of the violations described above are the consequence of concerted policies and practices adopted and followed by the defendants for the purposes of avoiding or circumventing the Public Records Law and discouraging or intimidating public records requesters,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit said the state has a pattern of “delay, obfuscation, non-responsiveness, foot-dragging and stonewalling” to undermine the Public Records Law.
The lawsuit includes multiple examples of news organizations requesting information but getting months-long delays.
Joining the lawsuit were The News and Observer and Charlotte Observer; the publishers of the Alamance News; the Southern Environmental Law Center; Indy Week, The North Carolina Justice Center; and Capitol Broadcasting of Raleigh.
McCrory spokesman Rick Martinez called the lawsuit “frivolous.”
“This administration is a champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathering. Fulfilling records requests is vital part of meeting those goals.
“However, some members of the media and political organizations are exploiting the public records law with frivolous and duplicative records requests that gum up the day-to-day operations of state government. Now, a coalition of liberal news media outlets and advocacy groups has taken this exploitation to a new level with a coordinated lawsuit that doesn’t contain all of the facts.
“The facts are the McCrory administration has been asked to fulfill more than 22,000 records requests, or roughly 170 every business week. The breadth of some of these requests is staggering. One advocacy group’s records request was so broad, it produced more than 5 million emails after the computer search was halted after 6 days. The narrowed search, now 6 days old, is expected to return approximately 1 million e-mails that must be individually reviewed to protect legally confidential information and the privacy of our citizens.
“This onslaught of public records requests forced us to upgrade the outdated and unsupported technology we inherited to facilitate and manage public records requests. At the cost of $1.7 million, more than 2.2 billion emails from nearly 95,000 mailboxes of current and former state employees are being transferred to a new, more efficient record retrieval system.
“State funding to hire additional personnel to meet the growing and massive requests from many for profit media and non-profit advocacy and political groups is not available unless the money is taken from priority services needed by the public. Now, this lawsuit will require us to hire more lawyers at taxpayers’ expense to respond to this baseless and ridiculous lawsuit.
“Like the requests themselves, this lawsuit is an attempt to tie up state personnel and resources that should be spent serving the people of North Carolina.”
Shortly after the media companies announced the lawsuit, the North Carolina GOP sent out a news release asking Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is expected to challenge McCrory in the next election, for his public records.
The GOP had previously requested all his official emails and any private emails retaining to his public duties; all correspondence between his office and the General Assembly; all correspondence between his office and that of Gov. Mike Easley; a copy of all correspondence between his office and that of Walter Dalton while Dalton was a senator or lieutenant governor; and his official calendar from 2001 to present.
The GOP said it had not received a “meaningful or adequate response” to the request.