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Thursday, May 29, 2008

New NC Bill Adds Fees, Ombuds

People or organizations who win public records lawsuits would be awarded legal fees to cover expenses for their litigation under a bill filed in the N.C. Senate.

Current law allows a judge to award reasonable attorneys fees to plaintiffs in a public records lawsuit, but doesn't require it. The proposed new law, sponsored by state Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, would entitle successful plaintiffs to such fees.

"Give them the information," Hoyle said in encouraging local governments to be more willing to give the public access to records they collect. "I mean, it's public."

John Bussian, a lobbyist for the N.C. Press Association and an attorney for Freedom Communications, said that while judges currently can award reasonable attorney's fees, doing so is the exception to the rule.

"They make it effectively a long shot to recover legal expenses," Bussian said.

He said that most states either provide for the automatic recovery of legal fees in open government cases or provide criminal penalties for violations of such laws.

"North Carolina does neither one," Bussian said.

More here.

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