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NFL Sues North Carolina for Hardy Evidence

(CN) - The National Football League is suing North Carolina and District Attorney R. Andrew Murray for refusing to give it access to records from the domestic violence trial of former Carolina Panthers player Greg Hardy.

Hardy was tried in Mecklenburg County District Court on July 15, 2014, on charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder, and was found guilty. He immediately entered a notice of appeal, requesting a jury trial.

With that, Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell ordered that all evidence admitted at the original trial, including documents, statements and photographs, be held under seal.

Hardy's Jury trial was supposed to start on February 9, but charges against him were abruptly dismissed after Holder did not show up.

The district attorney's office said at the time it had "reliable information" that Holder and Hardy had reached an independent civil settlement.

On February 11, 2015, Superior Court Judge Robert Sumner released the evidence to the respective parties, including Assistant District Attorney Bart Menser, who received the state's exhibits.

That same day, the NFL contacted Menser's post, defendant District Attorney R. Andrew Murray, demanding to see the records and exhibits, but Murray said refused to grant the league access, and has also refused to mediate the dispute.

NFL officials want to review the evidence themselves to rule on any punishment that might be meted out to hardy under the league's new personal conduct rule. If found guilty of violating league rules, a first offense under the new rules would mean a six-game suspension for Hardy, who earlier this week signed an $11.3 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

He remains on the NFL's exempt list until his punishment is decided. According to the complaint, the NFL wants to see photographs of the woman's injuries, a statement from a witness in Hardy's home the night of the assault, a photograph of weapons laid out on a futon in Hardy's bedroom, and a weapon's seizure form, as well as other exhibits.

The NFL's lawyer, H.M. Whitesides, told Murray in a letter on March 11 that they would prefer not to litigate the matter and would rather enter into a protective order that would allow disclosure of the exhibits to the league with the following restrictions: they would keep the documents confidential and not disclose them to the media or any other outlet, and they would return the exhibits to the District Attorney's custody after Hardy's disciplinary action with the league.

The DA's office still refused to release the records.

"All legal proceedings against Mr. Hardy have been concluded," the lawsuit says, "therefore, the exhibits admitted in evidence and held by the District Attorney are no longer trial preparation materials pursuant to N.C. General Statute 132-1.9."

That statute says, "Upon the conclusion of a legal proceeding, including the completion of all appeals and post judgment proceedings or in the case where no legal proceeding has been commenced upon the expiration of all applicable statutes of limitation and periods of repose, the custodian of a public record that is also claimed to be trial preparation material shall permit the inspection, examination or copying of such record if any law that is applicable so provides."

Murray's refusal to allow access "violates fundamental openness and transparency in government," the lawsuit says.

The plaintiff seeks an order compelling the defendants to permit inspection, examination, or copying of public records and a Writ of Mandamus, requiring the defendants to comply with the NC Public Records Statute.

The District Attorney's office says it "has requested that the N.C. Attorney General's Office represent the DA's Office in this matter. A similar request is made whenever the DA's Office is named in a lawsuit. The DA's Office will not comment further at this time."


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