New lawsuit accuses McCrory administration of withholding records

Published: Sep. 6, 2016 at 5:01 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2016 at 11:26 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Governor Pat McCrory and his administration of violating the North Carolina Public Records Act by withholding travel records.

The suit was filed on behalf of Real Facts NC, a liberal-leaning nonprofit. According to the complaint, an attorney for the group requested travel records from McCrory in July 2015, including flight activity reports and logs from the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

In addition to McCrory, the lawsuit also names Frank Perry, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and Highway Patrol Commander Colonel William Grey as defendants.

Troopers assigned to the NCSHP's Executive Protection Unity provide around-the-clock security for the governor.

Now, more than a year since the request, the lawsuit says the McCrory administration has yet to provide any responsive records.

DOCUMENT: Read the lawsuit filed against the McCrory administration 

"Upon information and belief, the Defendants have no intention of either producing responsive documents to the Real Facts or providing a lawful justification for not producing responsive documents," the lawsuit says. "Upon information and belief, the Defendants are knowingly and intentionally violating the Public Records Law."

The McCrory administration is already the subject of a separate lawsuit filed by a coalition of media outlets accusing the administration of failing to provide public records as required by law.

That lawsuit is essentially on hold while the North Carolina Court of Appeals considers an appeal from attorneys representing McCrory.

Earlier this year, an On Your Side investigation found McCrory took at least $60,000 worth of flights on state aircraft that could have been avoided. A bulk of the flights, our review found, was to and from Charlotte.

RELATED: Records show McCrory's frequent use of state plane to fly home

As part of our story on McCrory's travel, we also requested records from the North Carolina Highway Patrol in January. Those records have not been provided.

Emails included with the new complaint filed Tuesday show McCrory's General Counsel Bob Stephens emailed a lawyer for Real Facts NC late last week offering to provide a portion of the documents responsive to the July 2015 request.

"We have worked on gathering records that are responsive to your request," Stephens wrote. "We do not yet have all the records but want to get to you what we have. We will send you an email on Tuesday regarding making arrangements for getting these documents to you."

The attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of Real Facts NC, Michael Weisel, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks that a judge convene a hearing to review records responsive to Real Facts NC's request and to enter an order declaring the requested records to be public. It also asks that the state pay for the group's attorney's fees, as allowed by law.

McCrory's office criticized the new lawsuit as a political stunt in a response issue late Tuesday afternoon.

"Mr. Weisel has filed an absurd, baseless lawsuit with no regard to the cost on taxpayers," McCrory's General Counsel Bob Stephens said. "Like his previously unsuccessful attacks on Governor McCrory, this lawsuit is just the latest stunt attempting to mislead the public and advance Mr. Weisel's own liberal political agenda. It's a shame that the media even wastes time covering these political stunts."

This is not the first time McCrory's office has responded to public records lawsuit by criticizing the presumed motives behind the group attempting to access records.

When a coalition of media outlets filed a public records lawsuit against the McCrory administration last year, a spokesman called the suit "a frivolous action by the 'liberal media' and advocacy groups that will tie up resources," WRAL reported at the time.

A judge later issued a written ruling in which he admonished the McCrory administration.

"It included pejorative references to Plaintiffs, questioned their motives in requesting public records and in pursuing this litigation, and suggested that Defendants may not assign appropriate priority in compliance with the Public Records Act," Judge John Craig wrote. "Discovery will enable this Court to determine with Defendants' policies or practices contradict the egalitarian principles underlying the Public Records Act."

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