Raleigh, N.C. — Lawyers for the McCrory administration have successfully elevated a public records lawsuit from a coalition of media and advocacy groups to the state appeals court, delaying sworn testimony in the case.
An order from the North Carolina Court of Appeals Tuesday said further action in the case, including depositions of top state communications officers originally scheduled for last week, would be on hold until it rules on the administration's appeal.
A coalition including WRAL News parent Capitol Broadcasting Co., The News & Observer and advocacy groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center sued the administration last summer over claims that executive agencies "regularly and repeatedly" violated the state's public records law since 2013 by dragging their feet on the release of records and charging "false or unreasonable" fees.
[Full disclosure: Public Records Reporter Tyler Dukes has been involved in mediation in this lawsuit.]
The administration has dismissed the suit as frivolous, maintaining they've followed the law. In filings with the court, attorneys for McCrory and his cabinet agencies have argued for dismissal because they've already produced records in the cases cited in the suit. With the records in hand, administration lawyers say, there's no legal remedy a lawsuit could provide.
But coalition attorneys have countered that, because the state records statute requires agencies to produce records "as promptly as possible," a court could declare the administration in violation of the law due to its delays – a ruling that could guide policy going forward.
This dispute is the central issue now before a three-judge panel of the appeals court. The case will essentially be on hold until they rule.
Coalition lawyers had been prepared last week to begin hearing the sworn depositions of four top agency spokespeople, including McCrory Communications Director Josh Ellis, about the state's process of responding to records requests.
Superior Court Judge John Craig had denied several motions by the McCrory administration to delay that testimony before attorneys appealed to the higher court.