Butch Davis' work-related cell phone records will be made public, judge rules

Judge’s order clarifies earlier ruling on former UNC coach’s records

dkane@newsobserver.comAugust 22, 2012 

Lawyers representing former UNC football coach Butch Davis and a consortium of media companies seeking his cellphone records have reached an agreement that will make his university-related calls public.

State Superior Court Judge Howard Manning signed an order Wednesday stating that calls public officials make on personal cellphones that involve public business are to be produced under the state’s public records law. He had stated that repeatedly in a decision released earlier this month, but the decision did not expressly order Davis’ records be made public.

Amanda Martin, a lawyer representing the media, and Jon Sasser, Davis’ lawyer, said the judge clarified his decision Wednesday to include Davis’ records. Sasser said Davis has consented to making them public.

“While we appreciate judge Manning’s ruling that Coach Davis does not have to disclose any of his private calls, the Davises will nevertheless provide partial numbers for such calls in order to allay any appearance of any impropriety,” Sasser said in a statement. “The records of his business calls, which we will fully provide, will confirm the NCAA’s ruling, and UNC’s stated position, that Coach Davis has done absolutely nothing inappropriate.”

He also provided a statement from Davis, who said: “I respect Judge Manning’s decision. My sole desire in this process has been to protect the privacy of my family and friends. To the extent that my colleagues are inconvenienced by the release of these numbers, I apologize to them.”

Manning’s order, expected to be filed Thursday in Orange County, will give Davis 30 days to provide the university-related phone records. That would put an end to a roughly one-year court battle for the records that became part of an even longer fight with the university to produce records related to an NCAA investigation into the football team. The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer led the media’s efforts to win access to the records.

The NCAA investigation into improper agent benefits and improper tutoring cost Davis his job, though university officials conceded they could not fire him for cause and are obligated to pay him the remaining $2.7 million on his contract. News organizations sought the phone records to see what contact, if any, Davis had with agents and others involved in the probe.

Martin said in a statement that Manning’s ruling is also significant because it sets a precedent for other disputes involving cell phone records.

“This is important because anything else would rob us of the transparency we deserve from public officials conducting public business,” Martin said. “Our open government laws are in place to assure that the public has the opportunity to oversee what our officials are doing and how they are doing it, and they would lose all meaning if a personal cell phone or personal email account were all it took to let officials operate in secret.”

Kane: 919-829-4861