News Groups Sue N.C. Governor for Records

     (CN) – Several media groups claim in a lawsuit that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and his administration routinely violate the state’s public records law, stymieing their efforts to report on his administration.
     In a complaint filed July 21, Capital Broadcasting Company, the News & Observer, Alamance News, Media General, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the North Carolina Justice Center, and N.C. Policy Watch, among others, claim the governor’s office failed to respond to records requests in a timely fashion and imposed unjustified fees for copies of records it did produce.
     The plaintiffs say they all regularly make use of the North Carolina Public Records Law to gain access to government documents, records and information, and that when “the defendants fail or refuse to respond to public records requests or to provide requested public records as promptly as possible, the news media companies are thwarted in their attempts to provide their readers and viewers with accurate, timely and thorough information about the defendants’ decisions, actions and policies.”
     As for the Southern Environmental Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center, both organizations said recalcitrance on the part of the McCrory administration complicates their legal advocacy work on issues related to everything from transportation and land use to coastal wetlands protection and climate change.
     The plaintiffs seek to have the McCrory administration declared in violation of the state public records law and order to comply with their document requests.
     They are represented by Hugh Stevens of Raleigh, N.C. and Kimberly Hunter of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill, N.C. office.
     A statement from the governor’s office described the McCrory administration as “A champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathers.”
     “However, some members of the media and political organizations are exploiting the public records law and filing overly-broad 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 have taken this exploitation to a new level with a coordinated lawsuit that ignores the facts,” the statement continued.
     McCrory’s office claims to have fulfilled roughly 170 record requests per week, describing the breadth of some of these requests as “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,” the statement says.
     “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,” it continues. “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,” the statement concluded.

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