Raleigh, N.C. — A coalition of media and public policy groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory's administration Tuesday over access to public records.
The group includes Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL News, and other media companies, as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center. All make regular use of public records in their work.
McCrory's office slammed the suit Tuesday evening, calling it a frivolous action by "liberal media" and advocacy groups that will tie up state resources.
In the suit, filed in Wake County Superior Court against McCrory and the appointed heads of the state's executive agencies, members of the coalition allege the administration "regularly and repeatedly" violated the state's public records law since McCrory took office in 2013. That includes delaying the release of records and providing "false or unreasonable estimates" of fees and charges for producing them.
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 actions, the lawsuit alleges, "are the consequence of concerted policies and practices adopted and followed by the defendants for the purposes of avoiding or circumventing the public records law and discouraging or intimidating public records requestors."
The filing also notes several specific cases where executive agencies have failed to produce records in what the coalition alleges is a timely manner. In one request from WRAL News, the Governor's Office took more than a year to provide emails and other correspondence concerning the proposal to move the State Bureau of Investigation from the Attorney General's Office to the state Department of Public Safety, overseen by the governor's appointed secretary.
In a statement provided Tuesday evening, McCrory spokesman Rick Martinez said the administration is a "champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathering" and is committed to filling records requests.
"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."
Martinez said the administration has responded to 22,000 records requests and has pushed to upgrade the state's records retrieval system.
In a test earlier this year to see how quickly state agencies responded to records requests, McCrory's office in particular lagged far behind other agencies, the majority of which released records in days or weeks. A McCrory spokesman didn't provide those documents – a year's worth of the governor's travel records – for more than four months.
Read the filing
McCrory's full statement
Governor’s Office Responds to Frivolous Lawsuit Filed by Liberal Media and Advocacy Groups
This administration is a champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathering. Fulfilling records requests is vital part of meeting those goals.
However, 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. 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.
The facts are the McCrory administration has been asked to fulfill more than 22,000 records requests, or roughly 170 every business week. The breadth of some of these requests is staggering. One advocacy group’s records request was so broad, it produced more than 5 million emails after the computer search was halted after 6 days. The narrowed search, now 6 days old, is expected to return approximately 1 million e-mails that must be individually reviewed to protect legally confidential information and the privacy of our citizens.
This onslaught of public records requests forced us to upgrade the outdated and unsupported technology we inherited to facilitate and manage public records requests. At the cost of $1.7 million, more than 2.2 billion emails from nearly 95,000 mailboxes of current and former state employees are being transferred to a new, more efficient record retrieval system.
State funding to hire additional personnel to meet the growing and massive requests from many for profit media and non-profit advocacy and political groups is not available unless the money is taken from priority services needed by the public. Now, this lawsuit will require us to hire more lawyers at taxpayers’ expense to respond to this baseless and ridiculous lawsuit.
Like the requests themselves, this lawsuit is an attempt to tie up state personnel and resources that should be spent serving the people of North Carolina.
- Rick Martinez, Office of Governor Pat McCrory