Under the Dome

McCrory and key administrators sued for withholding travel records

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory speaks to the media Monday, May 9, 2016.
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory speaks to the media Monday, May 9, 2016. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A political organization whose president once advised former Gov. Mike Easley has sued Gov. Pat McCrory and his administration for withholding travel records requested more than a year ago.

Real Facts NC, a nonprofit formed in 2010 to conduct research and disseminate information about public policies and public officials, filed the lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court on Tuesday.

The organization lists Jay Reiff, who managed Easley’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004, as its president and board director in federal tax records from 2014.

In the lawsuit, Raleigh attorneys Michael Weisel and Daniel Johnson have asked the court to order McCrory and the heads of the state’s public safety department and highway patrol to bring travel logs, flight activity reports, reimbursement records and other invoices for a judge to review to determine what, if anything, are public records.

Real Facts NC requested such records on July 31, 2015, and has not been provided any of the information or been allowed to review the details, according to the lawsuit.

“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 contends. “Upon information and belief, the Defendants are knowingly and intentionally violating the Public Records Law.”

Bob Stephens, McCrory’s general counsel, issued a statement on Tuesday.

“Mr. Weisel has filed an absurd, baseless lawsuit with no regard to the cost on taxpayers,” Stephens said in the statement. “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.”

The request comes amid questions raised in an investigative report by WBTV in Charlotte about McCrory’s use of state planes.

Questions about the McCrory administration’s failure to provide public records as required by state law have been raised in a separate lawsuit filed by a consortium of news organizations, including The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer.

In that lawsuit, the news organizations allege that the McCrory administration has shown “patterns and practices of delay, obfuscation, non-responsiveness, foot-dragging and stonewalling.”

McCrory and his administration had asked the court to dismiss the news organizations’ complaint.

But in April, Superior Court Judge John Craig ruled that the case could move ahead, a decision appealed by the governor’s office.

In his recent order, Craig noted that “public records are the property of the people” and that records requests must be fulfilled “without regard for the motive or the identity of the requester.”

In a July 21, 2015, news release, the governor’s office contended that some media organizations are filing overly broad and duplicative records requests – and that “a coalition of liberal news media outlets and advocacy groups have taken this exploitation to a new level with a coordinated lawsuit that ignores the facts.”

Saying he viewed that news release with “concern and some distaste,” the judge said it appeared to be an effort to “politicize this legal proceeding.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1