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The Daily Tar Heel

News groups suing UNC for public records

Media law professor Cathy Packer said the law gives Chancellor Carol Folt the discretion to release the names, an opportunity she thinks Folt should have taken.

“When I was watching the press conference on television in my living room — when the chancellor got to the part where she said she couldn’t release the names of those people because of state personnel records — I started jumping up and down in the middle of my living room, yelling at the television,” she said.

“Yes, she absolutely could reveal the names of those people, there is the provision in the law that says that these types of records can be made available if it’s essential to maintain the integrity of a government department.”

Rick White, a University spokesman, declined to comment for this story.

Packer, who is the co-director of the Center for Media Law and Policy, said keeping the names private creates more bad publicity for UNC.

“Clearly our integrity is on the line. I mean, there’s never been a clearer case,” she said.

Jenny Surane, editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, said she thinks UNC would be acting to protect its integrity by releasing the names.

“Obviously, people undergoing disciplinary action because they were implicated in the Wainstein report aren’t doing wonders for the University’s integrity,” she said.

Surane said the lawsuit represents an effort to keep the University in check.

“We feel like the University is fully within its rights to release these names,” she said. “The argument that they want to protect their privacy is valuable, but not really plausible, given the fact that all of these people have been named in the Wainstein report.”

The Daily Tar Heel is working with the other organizations because the cost of suing the University would otherwise be out of reach.

“A media organization is not in a position to file expensive lawsuits and unfortunately, the University is in the perfect position to defend itself against potential lawsuits,” Surane said.

As part of her media law curriculum, Packer lectures her graduate and undergraduate classes about recent cases in which the University has refused to release records.

“I’ve been here more than 25 years and I’ve been watching this the whole time — the University saying no,” she said.

She said she cannot predict the results of the case, but she thinks greater transparency would help the University’s public image.

“It’s a public university,” she said. “We ought to be more open, and (if when) we’re open shows that we’ve done something wrong, then we just need to fix it. And it all comes out anyway.”

Michael Tadych, a lawyer with Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC, the Raleigh firm that filed the suit and that represents The Daily Tar Heel, said he expects a hearing on the issue within the next couple of weeks.

He reiterated Packer’s point about UNC’s right to release information to protect its integrity.

“They can exercise that statutory provision and not worry about it at all,” he said.

He said this provision is applicable here.

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“What I’ve heard and read out of the transcript of the press conference, the integrity was the overarching issue,” Tadych said.

He said this case is simpler than when The Daily Tar Heel and seven other organizations sued the University for parking tickets issued to football players and other records in 2010.

“This is basically just an issue of law,” he said. “Can the University’s HR policies override state law?”