Until last week, a high-profile lawsuit questioning the legitimacy of two state constitutional amendments had been bogged down in procedural issues for months, raising new concerns over political gamesmanship in the state’s judicial system. was rising.
The lawsuit is also hampered by an email retention policy that changed last year. This could ultimately mean that the state attorney of record that the NAACP hoped to consider in litigation no longer exists.
Procedural issues came to a head Tuesday when NAACP lawyers asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to take the case to lower court, claiming a panel of Republican judges unnecessarily delayed the case. On Wednesday, the panel independently proceeded, discussing the Supreme Court’s request and proceeding with the case again.
These types of lawsuits are common in North Carolina and often last for years.
Brooks Fuller, director of the North Carolina Public Government Commission, said:
Legislative Services Director Paul Coble, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the Capitol and implemented the policy, did not respond to a request for comment last week. But he has defended the policy in the past, saying states shouldn’t pay for server space to store legislative records indefinitely. He said he could keep the records as long as he wanted or ask Congress to keep them for up to 10 years.
But a lawyer representing the NAACP says he has spoken to lawmakers who appear unfamiliar with the policy. They also say Coble’s office took a detour when it was looking for emails related to Congressional debate on the state’s income tax cap.
After contacting the State Archives, the Legislature’s Financial Research Division, Coble’s office, and individual and former legislators, no records appear to exist, said an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the NC NAACP. . case.
SELC Attorney Brooks Rainey Pearson said:
The underlying lawsuit, NAACP v. Moore, argued that the Republican overwhelming majority in Congress in 2018 could not have started the process of amending the state constitution because the state legislature was illegally occupying seats. claim. The legislators had been drawn from districts later declared unconstitutional gerrymandering in a separate lawsuit. The NAACP lawsuit argues that the Republican majority can pass ordinary bills but cannot bring constitutional amendments to the voters.
As the lawsuit progressed, the issue was narrowed down to two voter-approved amendments in the 2018 election. One is lowering the cap on state income tax rates and the other is requiring photo ID to vote.
But before the Superior Court could hold these claims, the Court of Appeals had to formally remand the case. That didn’t happen, and the NAACP legal team filed a Mandams warrant in the Supreme Court this week, seeking to get the Court of Appeals to take action.
“It’s been months since this case has been in limbo,” said SELC’s Kym Meyer, the lead attorney on the case. “nothing [the Court of Appeals] decide. They literally just sign a piece of paper and send it in. ”
The documents were filed Wednesday, the day after Meyer and other attorneys sought enforcement action in the Supreme Court. So their request for a warrant was dismissed Thursday as moot.
The Court of Appeals Committee is made up of three Republican justices. Chief Justice Donna Stroud, Justices Chris Dillon and Jeff Carpenter. They declined to comment through a court system spokesman who said the judge would not comment on the ongoing case.
Battle of the Partisans?
Meyer said he would not “make assumptions about what is going on.”
But process, timing, and partisanship are at issue in many high-profile cases as they move up and down the North Carolina court system. 4 to 3 Democrat majority. The Court of Appeals is dominated by Republicans, 11 to 4 for her.
This time, it’s the left who fears a Republican commission is holding the case pending, perhaps until the Republican-leaning Supreme Court takes over.
Meyer said his attorney failed to initiate discovery when the NAACP case was first presented to a High Court judge. Specific situation details.
As such, it is important to communicate with Coble offices as to who is the actual custodian of those records and who is responsible for retaining and providing them under state public records laws or as part of the legal discovery process. This led to the exchange of A series of emails provided by The Southern Environmental Law Center show Rainey Pearson going from person to person in search of information.
Congress’ email policy, announced last year as a storage space saver, allows legislators to select emails to be archived on state servers for up to 10 years, and to retrieve emails from state servers. They say they can keep their emails longer if they do. Coble says it ultimately comes down to individual lawmakers if they want to keep the emails for more than three years.
SELC’s email chain shows that at least some current and former lawmakers were unaware of the new policy. Former state senator Andrew Bullock, who left Congress in 2017 and at one point served as co-chair of the Senate’s Tax Policy Making Committee, remembers how long Laney Pearson asked, but has no record. Said he didn’t have one. , according to an email reviewed by WRAL News.
“All my mail was on the NCGA servers,” Brock wrote. “I thought they were backed up and should be available.”
Brock told WRAL News Congress may need to reconsider its email policy, but lawmakers receive hundreds of emails a day. Of those, 170 of them either resign or are not re-elected, so there is a slight turnover each year. “That’s a lot of stuff you have to store,” Bullock said.
Fuller, director of the Open Government Commission, said the apparent confusion was “just a call for clarification” and that the archiving process needed improvement and that the situation was likely to repeat itself. rice field.
“Rather than trying to clean up the mess, we should invest in public records programs that keep public records as long as possible,” he said. “Because on the day the record was created, we don’t know if the record is really relevant to any meaningful litigation.”