Lawyer sues Division of Employment Security over public records access

Posted March 4, 2014

— Every weekday, couriers swoop into the mail room of the Division of Employment Security offices on Wade Avenue and pick up packets detailing unemployment claims that were denied after their initial review. Those packets make their way back to law firms, which send letters to the claimants offering to represent them during appeals hearings.

"They are getting information to our clients before our clients actually heard from us," said Dale Folwell, the assistant secretary in the Commerce Department who runs the division. 

Folwell told law firms last week that he would end the 10-year-old practice of making the information available every day. Instead, he wants to send law firms the hearing notices in batches at least three times a month. 

That prompted Monica Wilson, a former employment security hearing officer and one of the lawyers who regularly sends information to clients, to sue Folwell and the department. 

Without the daily release of hearing notices, lawyers "will not be able to inform claimants that their services are available prior to the scheduled hearings, which will cause immediate and irreparable harm to their business," according to the lawsuit. 

Jim White, who is representing Wilson in the case, said the cutoff would also deprive people of legal counsel in what can be a complicated legal hearing. White said that Wilson started her firm after realizing that many of the people coming before her in hearings didn't understand the process or their rights. 

"These are people facing the chance of losing their benefits," White said.

Folwell said that notices going to clients notifying them that their claims have been denied will suggest they consult the North Carolina Bar Association's website to find a subject-matter expert.

As for harm to Wilson's business, Folwell said, "She's not the only lawyer that has a business to run. Lawyers across the state should have equal access to this information." 

By sending the notices out in batches, Folwell said, the state will give lawyers in Wilmington, Asheville and Charlotte the same chance to advertise to clients as Wilson has. 

White said that the lawsuit amounts to a public records case. The state, he said, is curbing access to a set of records based on how they are used. 

"This is an effort to restrict access to public records by defining who is getting the records, by defining the users," White said.

Folwell said he is not trying to restrict access but to "level the playing field." It is also possible, he said, that some of the records Wilson has been getting are not strictly public records as defined by law. 

Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan has issued a temporary restraining order that keeps the state from ending the daily release of case notices until a hearing next week.


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  • Rachel Schoonover Mar 7, 2014
    user avatar

    Shouldn't the people whose claims have been denied, find out they have been denied before the lawyers? And quite frankly Ms. Wilson and others like you, what business is it of yours to know about people's affairs before they do? If they want your service, they'll look you up but quit trying to brow beat people and tell them all the horror stories so you can get a check. When you and your "colleagues" send me stuff, it goes straight into the trash why because I respect those who are successful enough to not need to weasel their way into my home.....its a disgusting practice that you are partaking in and you should be ashamed of yourself

  • Thomas Williams Mar 7, 2014
    user avatar

    Another attorney going to collect from a state agency, which in turn, comes out of the taxpayers pockets. Taxpayers will have to foot the bill, AGAIN, for this stuff. Please, attorneys, consider us, the working class who has to pay for this stuff, and have some mercy on us.

  • eastknox4ever Mar 7, 2014

    if a NC state agency is sending denied claimants to the NC Bar Association's "find-a-lawyer" referral service, we have another problem. the NC Bar Association is NOT the state Bar. The NC Bar Association is a membership organization that you PAY BIG $$$ to be a member of. So, not a member? No referral. Not exactly "leveling the playing field" as Folwell is suggesting. The playing field will be decidedly skewed in favor of those who are members of the very expensive Bar Association club.

  • descartes Mar 6, 2014

    Nobody loves advertisements, but when you need an attorney and you don't have one, or you never knew you could have one, the results can be disastrous.

  • Andy Hairston Mar 6, 2014
    user avatar

    "How dare you make it harder for us to advertise! We demand ads for our firms go to everybody who might possibly have use for us!"

    Personally, I'd like to see these records be available only if requested *by name*. Same with auto accidents - stop the flood of lawyer ads when a bumper gets dented.

  • goldenosprey Mar 5, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Really? I thought lawyers incurred 6 figure student loan debt to work for free.

    Advertisement for legal services is heavily regulated by the Bar.

  • Forthe Newssite Mar 5, 2014
    user avatar

    Ambulance chasers, nothing more! I do NOT think the lawyers should get the info before the person does, I also HOPE that some of the info is redacted-ss# for example-

    I would also think that most DO know they can appeal and will then look for lawyers. So unless these 'chasers' are going to give them a really, really reduced rate they are only in it for the $$$$

  • Tim Kelly Mar 5, 2014
    user avatar

    Let's see, DHHS ignoring public records requests, Dept. of Administration and the Gov. Office now charging for access to these records and Employment Security now trying to limit access. I am sure that it is all just a coincidence though.

  • goldenosprey Mar 5, 2014

    View quoted thread

    What law are the lawyers not following?

  • Rebelyell55 Mar 5, 2014

    Sounds like a free for all, that needs to be stopped. The lawyers should follow the law, and should only be allowed records that are more specific than this batch pick up.