Local Politics

Lawmaker Cannot Block Subpoena of Records

Posted June 8, 2007 4:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2007 8:00 p.m. EDT

— State Rep. Mary McAllister filed suit Friday against the state, seeking a court order to block a subpoena requiring her to turn over records from a nonprofit organization she heads.

The State Auditor's Office obtained a subpoena this week to examine the computer hard drives of Operation Sickle Cell, a health care counseling and testing nonprofit in Fayetteville. McAllister, D-Cumberland, is the executive director of the organization, which receives state funding.

"When organizations accept state money, they know that there's going to be increased scrutiny," said Chris Mears, a spokesman for the State Auditor's Office.

The nonprofit already is part of a State Board of Elections inquiry into McAllister's campaign finances. Questions have been raised as to whether her political activities are run out of the state sponsored group.

The State Auditor's Office had informally requested to review Operation Sickle Cell records as part of its responsibility to audit taxpayer-supported groups. McAllister complied with the request until auditors demanded access to the organization's computer records, according to her attorney, Jonathan Charleston.

Charleston said the nonprofit already has turned over all records related to state grants, and the hard drives are beyond the scope of the initial request by the State Auditor's Office. Also, private health information of clients and private e-mails of employees are contained on the hard drives, he said.

"We would hope that the state auditor would not allow this to turn into a fishing expedition, which (is where) it appears to be headed.," Charleston said. "They don't have any interest in getting to the truth. This is as political as the day is long."

McAllister sought a restraining order that would prevent the auditor's from using the subpoena to gain access to the computer hard drives. But a judge ruled that the taxpayer funded group must turn over files. Medical records would remain confidential, according to the ruling.

Mears said the incident marks the first time in a decade that the State Auditor's Office has had to use subpoena powers as part of a state audit, noting the vast majority of nonprofits comply with information requests.

"It's unfortunate that we've had to go this route," he said. "Whenever the taxpayers' money is being spent, there needs to be accountability and transparency."