Access To Court Proceedings And Court Records
- In addition to the cases that recognize a Constitutional right of access to court files and court proceedings, North Carolina’s Constitution provides that all courts shall be open. C. Const. art. I, § 14; N.C. Const. art. I, § 18. State law also specifies that court records are public records. G.S. § 7A-109.
- North Carolina law also provides a statutory mechanism to object when a party seeks to seal a court record or close a hearing in a civil case. S. § 1-72.1.
- North Carolina has a law that prohibits any court from issuing an order that bans or otherwise restricts publication of open court proceedings. S. § 7A-276.1.
Open Meetings Law
- Applies to all elected or appointed bodies that have two or more members and exercise virtually any governmental function, including providing advice or oversight. Also applies to committees of public bodies.
- Applies anytime there is a meeting of a majority of the public body.
- Requires three things: (1) notice of the meeting; (2) opportunity for the public to attend unless there is a specifically identified, statutory exemption; and (3) minutes of open and closed sessions.
- Minutes of closed sessions may only be withheld from public view as long as necessary to preserve the confidential issue served by the closed session.
Public Records Law
- Applies to all three branches of the government.
- Unless a document is specifically exempted from disclosure by statute, it must be produced upon request.
- With limited exception (which has been the subject of recent, unresolved litigation), you can only be charged the actual cost to produce a public record. “Staff time” and other types of overhead cannot be charged.
- You need not say why you want a document.
- With limited exception, your use of a public record cannot be restricted.
- The law is very narrow with regard to what personnel information is public. However, almost all personnel statutes permit the public agency to release personnel information when doing so is necessary to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the agency.
- The law is very narrow with regard to what criminal information is public. That is spelled out in G.S. § 132-1.4.
- No magic language is required for public records requests.
For a sample public records request, go to http://tinyurl.com/SMVT-Sample-Letter.
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