The Civitas Institute filed a public records lawsuit this week against the Alamance County Board of Elections after the county attorney insisted that a representative of the group inspect records in person before copies would be made. The lawsuit raises the question of whether a government agency putting additional conditions on a records request prior to fulfilling it amounts to a refusal.
In December a Civitas Institute researcher filed a public records request with the Alamance County Board of Elections for documents related to complaints in the November 2014 election. Civitas made similar requests from boards of elections all across the state. Alamance County Board of Elections referred the records request to County Attorney Clyde Albright, who responded that the county would allow the researcher to first inspect the records and that copies would only be provided after the inspection had occurred.
The county attorney pointed to the section of the public records law authorizing inspection of public records as permitting Alamance County’s requirement that records be inspected prior to copies being made. Civitas pointed to the same area of the law and noted that it requires that the records custodian “shall, as promptly as possible, provide copies … upon payment of any fees as may be proscribed by law.”
After several attempts by a Civitas attorney to resolve the dispute with Albright, the institute filed a public records lawsuit this week in Alamance County Superior Court. The case centers on two legal questions. First, can an agency such as the Alamance Board of Elections delegate its responsibilities under the public records law to a different government office, such as the county attorney. Second, is the county’s insistence that records be inspected prior to copies being provided equivalent to a refusal to provide records under the public records act.