No decision yet in public records case

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning will wait to rule on a hearing between UNC and The Daily Tar Heel, (Raleigh) News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and five other news outlets.

Beginning in 2010, the news publications sued the University for all documents related to the NCAA investigation of the football team.

Jon Sasser, an attorney representing former football coach Butch Davis, spoke first, arguing that the subpoena for Davis’ personal phone records should be dismissed. He said it was questionable whether Davis should be considered a public official and that the records contained no content.
Sasser also said the release of Davis’ phone records would make him vulnerable to public ridicule from fans of N.C. State University.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Hugh Stevens, argued that since Davis previously admitted to using his personal phone for University business — even though he had been issued a business phone — that Davis’ records should be public.

Stevens said if Davis’ personal records were not released it could become common practice for public officials to avoid using state-issued phones.

Attorneys for both sides then argued whether or not documents related to the NCAA investigation should be protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

Amanda Martin argued for the media publications and said that because the NCAA is a self-governed, voluntary membership organization that the University’s interaction with the NCAA is not protected by FERPA and should be public record.

Beginning last week, the University released more than 270 pages of heavily redacted documents related to the NCAA investigation. The documents were released 622 days after the lawsuit was filed.

Marc Bernstein, an attorney representing the University, said under the 1998 DTH case in which FERPA was defined, the documents should remain redacted.

Manning said he will interpret FERPA based solely on North Carolina law. Manning said he will rule on the case soon but he expects his decision to be appealed to the N.C Court of Appeals and possibly the N.C. Supreme Court.

Last year, Manning ordered the University to release complete phone records of key officials involved in the investigation and student athlete parking tickets. The hearing was held April 15 and his decision was made in that case April 19.

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