N.C. Court of Appeals orders first expedited review of a public records case

After initially declining the Times-News's request for an expedited appeal of its public records suit against the Alamance-Burlington School System, the Court of Appeals this week set a short schedule for the attorneys to file and indicated the case would be put on the first available docket.  The N.C. Supreme Court instructed the Court of Appeals to reconsider providing an expedited review last week. 

For the first time, the N.C. Court of Appeals has set an expedited time table for review of a public records lawsuit. 

The N.C. Public Records Law says that public records disputes “shall be accorded priority by the trial and appellate courts.” But appeals of records disputes have typically moved at the same pace as other civil appeals. 

The heart of the disupte is whether the Alamance-Burlington School System Board of Education can withhold unredacted closed session meeting minutes related to the departure of Superintendent Lillie Cox last spring. The newspaper requested the minutes and the school system redacted discussion about Cox citing the personnel law for school employees. The newspaper filed suit in October and in December a superior court judge granted a motion to dismiss the case brought by the schools. 

The newspaper appealed and asked the Court of Appeals to set an expedited schedule. When the Court of Appeals declined, the newspaper then asked the N.C. Supreme Court to take up the case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the matter at this point, but instructed the Court of Appeals to reconsider the request for an expedited appeal. 

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals issued a shortened schedule that requires attorneys for the newspaper to file its brief by Feb. 11, which is 15 days after the record of the case was filed, and for the school’s attorneys to file its brief within 15 days of the newspaper’s filing. That’s half the time for each that is proscribed by the N.C. Rules of Appellate Procudure. The Court of Appeals also indicated the case would be added to the first available docket for argument after the briefs have been filed. 

Read the Times-News coverage of the appeal here