Updated 07/18/2012 07:31 PM
Judge to hear public record case in UNC football investigation
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RALEIGH -- A judge's ruling on an open records request for all documents involved in UNC Chapel Hill's investigation into academic misconduct and improper benefits within the football program could be a precedent setting case.
On Thursday, Wake County Judge Howard Manning will conduct a public records hearing between UNC and various media outlets, including News 14 Carolina.
Former football coach Butch Davis and the university have fought release of documents.
The legal question Manning must decide is whether Butch Davis' personal cell phone records should be revealed under the state's public record law.
The media outlets argue Davis was a state employee and used his own phone to conduct football related business. Attorneys for Davis claim his phone records were not created during public business.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who represented several football players in the investigation, said the judge could release the specific business-related calls.
"I think an argument can be made that in the context of state business, that particular conversation or group of conversations could be subject to the public records law," said Orr, who is currently an attorney for Poyner Spruill.
Common Cause North Carolina Director Bob Phillips said public business being conducted anywhere should be subject to the public records law.
"The higher up the food chain, I think there's going to be more scrutiny," said Phillips. "I believe its fair game for anything that's done in the name of the public whether it's on a private cell phone or in your home.
Another major issue Orr expects attorneys representing the media groups and UNC to argue about is whether documents containing information about students should be censored.
UNC claims releasing the documents without redaction would violate FERPA, the Family Educational Records Privacy Act.
At the bottom of each of reinstatement request for the football players that UNC sent to the NCAA during the investigation, each student-athlete was required by the university to waive his FERPA rights.
"So that the university, the ACC, the NCAA can release anything the want to the media to explain any decision,” said Orr, who believes the way the judge interprets FERPA and the public records law could impact the information that's available to the public in future cases. "Is an important consideration long term."
The hearing between the media groups and UNC Thursday at 11 a.m.