Politics & Government

Observer seeks hearing on public records lawsuit against McCrory

The Observer has asked for a court hearing as early as next week on a lawsuit the paper filed against Gov. Pat McCrory over an unfulfilled public records request.
The Observer has asked for a court hearing as early as next week on a lawsuit the paper filed against Gov. Pat McCrory over an unfulfilled public records request. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Observer has asked for a court hearing as early as next week on a lawsuit the paper filed against Gov. Pat McCrory over an unfulfilled public records request.

The suit, filed Oct. 7 in state superior court in Wake County, seeks emails related to House Bill 2 that the paper first requested in April under the state’s public records law.

After the suit, the governor’s office on Oct. 17 provided the Observer with more than 100,000 pages of emails. It also said it planned to turn over a second group of emails, but hadn’t done so as of late Thursday. Robert Orr, a former associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, has worked with the governor’s office on the request.

Orr told the Observer that the governor’s office is working on reviewing the emails and hopes to avoid a hearing.

The first collection of emails included messages from the governor’s staff, but little from McCrory himself. Most of the emails were messages sent to the governor’s office from supporters and opponents of the law.

In one of the emails, McCrory’s general counsel, Bob Stephens, told a former colleague that the governor fought against HB2 before it passed. That contrasted with McCrory’s strong public defense of the law.

“There is no dispute that these are public records,” said Observer Executive Editor Rick Thames. “Our request for them was ignored for six months, until we filed a lawsuit. Now, 20 more days have passed and we’ve only seen a portion of them. We are asking that a judge intervene here.”

The state legislature passed HB2 on March 23 and McCrory signed the bill hours later. The law overturned a Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance supported by Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts that allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

HB2 also overrode local ordinances around the state that would have expanded protections for the LGBT community.

Since the passage of HB2, which also limits protections for LGBT individuals, sports organizations have pulled games from the state, musicians have canceled performances and companies have called off expansion plans. Real estate research firm CoStar Group this week chose to bring 730 jobs to Richmond, Va., instead of Charlotte, and real estate sources told the Observer that HB2 played a deciding role.

The Observer has also requested and reported on HB2-related communications involving other officials. For example, after the General Assembly passed House Bill 2, Roberts texted McCrory asking him not to sign the bill, the Observer reported in May.

State Rep. Dan Bishop, a Republican lawmaker who was one of the architects of HB2, also provided emails to the Observer. The emails included an exchange in which Bishop told a supporter of the law, “I don’t fear man. I fear God. So I won’t be backing down.”

The Observer in June also requested emails from House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, the Republican leaders of the legislature. Those documents have not yet been provided.

The offices of Berger and Moore have received the Observer’s request and are “working to provide a response as quickly as possible in accordance with the law,” a spokeswoman said.

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker

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