Raleigh, N.C. — In response to a media coalition lawsuit over public records, the Governor's Office denies it has violated state law by delaying access to documents and is hiring outside counsel to defend the administration in court.
Capitol Broadcasting Company, The News & Observer and several other North Carolina media companies, along with advocacy organizations such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed suit against the administration in July, alleging it was circumventing public records law with policies discouraging and intimidating those who seek government documents.
But in its filing with Wake County Superior Court last week, attorneys representing Gov. Pat McCrory and his cabinet wrote that state leaders have "regularly and repeatedly complied with public records law" by providing tens of thousands of documents to those who request them.
"The requests are often extremely broad," the filing reads. "Many times such requests are made without regard to the burden placed on taxpayer resources, the amount of time and energy it takes to identify responsive records and the time it takes to review each record to ensure that information protected by law is not released inadvertently."
Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, the Raleigh firm representing the coalition, declined to comment Monday afternoon.
North Carolina's open records law requires government entities from the state to the local level to release any document requested by the public "as promptly as possible," unless a specific exemption exists in the law.
The administration's response denied more than a dozen specific allegations that state officials delayed the release of records – sometimes for more than a year – or provided "false or unreasonable estimates" of fees and charges for producing them. The filing said each state agency "undertook a reasonable search for and has produced, to the best of its knowledge, all public records responsive" to the requests.
Since the lawsuit, media outlets have continued to note long wait times for records requests, even some that are relatively routine. In mid-September, The Charlotte Observer reported the Department of Commerce took more than a year and a half to produce records related to an almost $34 million economic incentive deal with Electrolux in December 2013.
The Governor's Office has publicly dismissed the lawsuit as a frivolous action by "liberal media" and advocacy groups that will tie up resources. It also accused some political organizations and members of the media of exploiting the public records law to "gum up the day-to-day operations of state government."
The McCrory administration hired Charlotte law firm Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson to handle the case.
A McCrory spokesman has not yet responded to a request for comment about why the administration obtained outside counsel instead of using lawyers with the Attorney General's Office, which typically defends the state against lawsuits.
According to a document the Governor's Office uses to track requests, McCrory's staff was working on 31 separate requests as of Aug. 28. Eight came from such media groups as WRAL News, The News and Observer and the Associated Press. The majority, however, came from political organizations, including the Democratic Governors Association and the liberal American Bridge PAC.
The longest pending request on the list was from WTVD-TV, originally submitted by the reporter on March 12, 2014.