Raleigh, N.C. — A Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory's administration over public records filed by a coalition of media and advocacy groups can move forward.
Judge John Craig said attorneys for the coalition – which includes WRAL News, The News & Observer and other media companies, as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center – can begin taking sworn statements from public records officials within the governor's administration.
Plaintiffs in the suit list more than a dozen specific cases where state officials have delayed the release of records – sometimes for more than a year – or provided "false or unreasonable estimates" of fees and charges for producing them.
Attorneys for McCrory and his cabinet agencies had moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds that agencies had already produced records in the cases the coalition cited. The governor has dismissed the lawsuit as "frivolous" and has maintained his agencies follow the state's records law and are committed to transparency.
In a statement after the lawsuit was filed in July 2015, McCrory spokesman Rick Martinez slammed the media for taking legal action, saying that, like the public records requests themselves, it would tie up state resources.
"Some members of the media and political organizations are exploiting the public records law with frivolous and duplicative records requests that gum up the day-to-day operations of state government," Martinez wrote in the statement. "Now, a coalition of liberal news media outlets and advocacy groups has taken this exploitation to a new level with a coordinated lawsuit that doesn’t contain all of the facts."
Attorneys for the media coalition said Craig criticized those statements during the hearing, noting that public records belong to the public and that fulfilling requests for those records was an important responsibility of the government.
[Full disclosure: WRAL News Reporter Tyler Dukes has been involved in mediation in this lawsuit.]