Public records lawsuit filed against McCrory administration

Public records were the subject of plenty of public attention Tuesday.

A coalition that includes the Observer filed a lawsuit against the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, alleging a pattern of state records law violations that the plaintiffs say amount to “willful” failures to carry out mandatory duties.

Under state law, most records created by the government are to be available to the public as “promptly as possible.”

The coalition lawsuit seeks a court order to compel McCrory and his cabinet secretaries to make available public records that have long been sought by the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs allege that since McCrory took office in 2013 “he and his Cabinet have violated the Public Records Law regularly and repeatedly.” The suit alleges seven different ways the law has not been followed, including failing to provide records promptly and imposing “unjustified or unreasonable” charges for locating, retrieving and copying public records.

Joining in the suit are the The News & Observer; Capitol Broadcasting Co., which owns WRAL-TV; Boney Publishers, which operates the Alamance News; the Southern Environmental Law Center; ZM Indy Inc., which operates the Indy Week newspaper; Media General Operations, which operates WNCN-TV in Raleigh; and the North Carolina Justice Center, which includes N.C. Policy Watch.

McCrory’s office did not comment.

Within a few hours, the state Republican Party brought attention to a pending request for volumes of records from Attorney General Roy Cooper, threatening legal action if more “meaningful” responses were not made. In a letter, GOP chairman Hasan Harnett wrote that the party has not received any “meaningful or adequate” response to its requests since they were made in a series of letters in March.

The letter says Cooper has seven more days to begin producing documents or Harnett will begin legal action and seek a court order to compel compliance.

But Cooper’s office says it began producing records responsive to the GOP’s request in April.

Cooper immediately responded that the GOP had more than 14,000 documents ready – and GOP representatives had only looked at the documents for about an hour back in May.

Cooper is expected to seek the Democratic nomination and challenge McCrory in 2016.

A Cooper staffer wrote that “because this office was told in early May that the two party representatives would return to continue reviewing the documents, it has continued to produce documents responsive to that public records request. Those documents remain available for review.”