The state Supreme Court has overturned the dismissal of a public records lawsuit filed by a state employees association against the State Treasurer's office.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina was looking for records from former Treasurer Richard Moore in response to a Forbes magazine article that asserted Moore's ability to choose money mangers and investment funds gave him a massive fundraising advantage.
SEANC requested records about investments and the Forbes article and complained for months that it didn't get all that it asked for. Moore's office continued to assert the request had been fulfilled. SEANC sued and a judge dismissed the case early on.
The Supreme Court decided in an opinion published last week that state officials or agencies should not be the ones to decide whether they have complied with a records request that is in dispute. Courts should make those determinations, wrote Justice Edward Thomas Brady.
Judicial review of a state agency’s compliance with a request, prior to the categorical dismissal of this type of complaint, is critical to ensuring that, as noted above, public records and information remain the property of the people of North Carolina. Otherwise, the state agency would be permitted to police its own compliance with the Public Records Act, a practice not likely to promote these important policy goals.
The decision sends the case back to a judge.
“This ruling is a victory for state employees’ retirement security, open government and public accountability from its elected officials,” said SEANC Executive Director Dana Cope in a statement.