Media accuses UNC of stifling public records requests

April 15, 2011 2:39:15 PM PDT
Attorneys for ABC11 and eight other media organizations argued in court Friday that UNC is illegally stifling public records requests stemming from the football investigation.

Among the records the media is fighting for are unredacted phone records, player parking tickets and a full list of tutors including salaries.

The parking tickets would reveal the kinds of cars the players drive and if they received preferential treatment.

Attorneys for UNC say the information is protected under a federal law known as FERPA or the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. They say anything that includes any information about a student is part of that student's educational record and thus cannot be released.

However, attorneys for the media organizations say FERPA should be interpreted much more narrowly to include things like grades and argued the parking tickets should specifically be exempt because tickets relate to law enforcement action.

"The United States Supreme Court said congress did not seem to intend to cover every single item that covers every item about a student," media Attorney Amanda Martin said.

"I thought it was incredible that, at least in briefing, this was characterized as a case between the plaintiffs and a bad actor, who was offensive, perfectionist, and hiding behind the facade of student privacy," Special Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters said.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning replied, "I'm not happy about the phones. And I'm not happy about the parking tickets. The student-teacher-mentor's a little bit different. I'll let you know."

As for the student tutor issues, media lawyers argued that because non-students could also be tutors, FERPA does not apply.

Lawyers for UNC argued the requirements to tutor an athlete spell out the need to be a student. A ruling is expected next week.

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