Judge rules against UNC in N&O lawsuit

Staff writerApril 19, 2011 

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill withheld documents that should have been provided to The News & Observer in response to an open-records lawsuit filed by a consortium of media groups led by The N&O and The Charlotte Observer against the university, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled today.

In a memorandum regarding his decision, Manning wrote, "FERPA does not provide a student with an invisible cloak so that the student can remain hidden from public view while enrolled at UNC."

The university cited FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as justification for withholding phone records and parking tickets requested by The N&O.

Manning did rule that the identities of student tutors working with athletic teams are protected by FERPA. Lawyers for UNC provided the plaintiffs with a list of non-student tutors at the beginning of a hearing Friday.

Manning directed attorneys representing the media groups to prepare an order implementing his decision. The university will then have the right to appeal the order.

Still to be decided is one major area of the lawsuit, which is the request for all documents relating to investigations into the UNC football program. Manning and the lawyers for both sides agreed at Friday's hearing that it was necessary first to decide the three other areas of dispute -- phone records, parking tickets and tutor identities.

The N&O and Charlotte Observer, both McClatchy newspapers, joined in the suit with the DTH Media Corp., which publishes the UNC-CH student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel; News 14 Carolina, a cable TV station operated by Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership; WTVD Television; Capitol Broadcasting; The Associated Press; and Media General Operations.

The suit names UNC-CH chancellor Holden Thorp, athletic director Dick Baddour, football coach Butch Davis and Jeff McCracken, head of the UNC-CH public safety department, as defendants.

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