A bill introduced in the North Carolina Senate would award legal fees to people or groups who win public records lawsuits against government departments and agencies.
Current North Carolina state law allows a judge to award legal fees to plaintiffs in public records lawsuit, but doesn’t require it. The proposed law would entitle successful plaintiffs to these attorney fees.
While judges currently can award legal fees, doing so is the exception to the rule.
Most states either provide for the automatic awarding of these legal fees in open public records cases or provide for criminal penalties for violations of open records laws.
North Carolina law currently allows for neither of these.
The bill would also create an Open Government Unit in the North Carolina Department of Justice.
The new public records legislation was prompted over a legal dispute involving a North Carolina newspaper. In that lawsuit, the newspaper won, but was left responsible for their $50,000 legal bill.