Raleigh, N.C. — The McCrory administration plans to appeal an order from a Superior Court judge requiring state officials to provide sworn statements in a public records lawsuit filed by a coalition of media and advocacy groups.
Judge John Craig ruled in late March that attorneys for the coalition, which includes media companies such as WRAL News as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center, can move ahead with the records lawsuit over the objections of the Governor's Office. The suit alleges state officials have circumvented state public records law by delaying the release of records or providing "false or unreasonable estimates" of fees and charges for producing them.
[Full disclosure: Public Records Reporter Tyler Dukes has been involved in mediation in this lawsuit.]
Administration officials have maintained the state's executive agencies follow the state's records law and are committed to transparency.
On Monday, McCrory's attorneys moved to delay the depositions of four public information officers while they appeal Craig's order.
Depositions were scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Attorneys for McCrory and his cabinet agencies had originally moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds that agencies already produced records in the cases the coalition cited.
But in the order formally signed April 25, Craig wrote that he needed more evidence before he could assess the coalition's claims that the administration's policies run contrary to the state's public records law, which he called "egalitarian on its face."
"Fulfilling public records requests is an intrinsically important responsibility of government agencies, and public records requests must be fulfilled in a neutral manner, without regard to the motive or identify of the requester," Craig wrote.
He also took issue with a statement from a McCrory spokesman about the suit shortly after it was filed in July 2015. The Governor's Office at the time attributed the legal action to "a coalition of liberal news media outlets and advocacy groups" that were "exploiting the public records law with frivolous and duplicative records requests."
Craig noted "with concern and some distaste" that the press release appeared to politicize the lawsuit.
"It included pejorative references to Plaintiffs, questioned their motives in requesting public records and in pursuing this litigation, and suggested that Defendants may not assign appropriate priority to compliance with the Public Records Act," Craig wrote. "Discovery will enable this Court to determine with Defendants' policies or practices contradict the egalitarian principles underlying the Public Records Act."
The Governor's Office did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.