Durham lawmaker uses private email to conduct public business

Rep. Marcia Morey and the NCGA (N.C. General Assembly/CBS North Carolina)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) – A state lawmaker is using two private email accounts to conduct official legislative business, a WBTV investigation has found.

State Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) has been emailing judges across the state to solicit input and feedback on the Republican’s proposal to re-draw judicial districts. Morey and other legislative Democrats oppose the new plan.

An email obtained by WBTV shows Morey used a private email address to conduct at least some of her communication with judges.

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The email was sent by Morey using a private address to Mecklenburg County Chief District Judge Regan Miller.

“Can you let all your judges know that I am compiling responses from judges who are opposed to HB717 and Rep. Justin Burr’s redistricting plan without more time and study,” Morey wrote to Miller.

“I can keep names confidential or use them if they are ok with it.”

At the end of the email, Morey tells Miller judges can respond using a different personal email address or her legislative address.

Jonathan Jones, an attorney who specializes in the North Carolina Public Records Act as executive director of the North Carolina Sunshine Center, said he encourages public officials across the state to always use their government email accounts to conduct public business.

“I always discourage government officials from using private email to conduct public business,” Jones said.

“The law is clear: it’s a public record regardless of which account you use it on,” he said. “For the sake of keeping everything clean, it’s better to use an official account when that exists.”

WBTV requested all emails Morey sent and received related to the judicial redistricting proposal on Sept. 12. Initially, Morey refused to produce any emails, claiming her correspondence regarding proposed legislation was protected by legislative immunity.

After an attorney for WBTV contacted Morey, she agreed to mail WBTV printed copies of emails she said were responsive to the station’s request.

But a review of the emails Morey sent in response to the station’s request found her email to Miller—in which she promises to protect the identity of elected judges discussing pending legislation and offers a private email address as a way to communicate—was missing.

Morey produced a copy of her email to Miller only after a WBTV reporter told her the station already had a copy of that email.

In a phone call and subsequent email with a WBTV reporter Morey, a retired chief district court judge, said she considered her email to Miller to be one friend reaching out to another.

“If you read my email to Judge Miller, I promise to keep his name confidential from repeating what he wrote to me, unless I had his permission,” Morey said in an emailed statement. “I encouraged Regan to write to me at my personal or legislative email address, which he previously had as we have known each other for 18 years. Nothing was done to avoid any public records law.”

It is impossible to tell whether Miller responded to Morey’s email because many of the responses she received from judges voicing concerns about the judicial redistricting plan have the identities of the judge redacted.

Morey has agreed to meet with a WBTV reporter this week to provide the identities of those who emailed her.

“Please keep in mind, that I worked 18 years as a judge. Emails to and from many judges are as friends, colleagues. If a name was redacted, and you are entitled to know their identity, I will provide that information,” Morey said.

Morey said legislative staff is conducting a full search of her legislative email for additional correspondence responsive to WBTV’s request but that search will take two weeks. It is not clear whether she will conduct an additional search of her personal email accounts to ensure the email to Miller was not the only responsive message that was omitted from her original production.

Copyright 2017 WBTV. All rights reserved.

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