N.C. judge: Public officials can’t dodge public records laws with personal cell phones

Former University of North Carolina football coach Butch Davis has 30 days to provide the portion of his cell phone bills that reflect work-related calls, a North Carolina judge has ordered.

The Wednesday order issued by Judge Howard E. Manning clarifies a decision issued earlier this month regarding Davis’ phone records and other records being sought by The Daily Tar Heel and seven other media organizations.

University officials and coaches can’t use personal phones to conduct business in order to “dodge” the state’s public records law, Manning wrote in the first memo and again today in the order.

Davis had a university-provided phone, but used a personal cell phone for all his calls. The order protects phone records that are unrelated to Davis’ work as coach but allows reporters access to the rest.

Jon Sasser, Davis’ attorney, said in a statement provided to The (Raleigh) News & Observer that Davis plans to provide partial numbers for the non-public calls.

Manning’s order puts to rest one part of a years long battle between UNC and media organizations for records relating to an NCAA investigation into improper agent benefits and academic dishonesty. The university has argued that many of the records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Manning issued a separate memo earlier this month addressing the last of the records named in the original lawsuit. The memo finds that records relating to improper benefits from agents are not protected by FERPA but allows the university to withhold access to most records relating to UNC’s hiring of an outside law firm.

Editor’s note: I am a former DTH reporter who reported on the early stages of the school’s NCAA investigation.