Raleigh, N.C. — For the time being, state officials cannot cut off access to records that indicate when unemployment claims have been denied, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled Thursday.
Officials with the state's Division of Employment Security announced plans late last month to change a process through which lawyers had obtained records that identify individuals who have been denied unemployment benefits by the state. The lawyers have used that information to advertise their services.
Durham lawyer Monica Wilson sued after the change was announced, saying she would lose business and people would lose access to legal counsel. The state, she said, was violating North Carolina's open records laws.
Ridgeway issued a preliminary injunction in the case, which maintains the status quo until the case gets to trial, handing Wilson at least a temporary victory. He wrote, "There is probable cause the Plaintiffs will be able to establish their asserted rights under the North Carolina Public Records Law at the trial of this matter."
During a hearing earlier this week, Dale Folwell, the assistant commerce secretary who oversees the division, said the state had been ordered by the U.S. Department of Labor to stop releasing the information. The conflicting orders from the federal government and the state court, he said, left the division between a rock and a hard place.
"We are going to choose to obey the Superior Court judge with the understanding that, if we never had attempted to change this process, we would have never realized that this state agency had been violating federal law for eight years," Folwell said.