CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A group of ex-reporters have lost their legal battle against Charlotte City Council over a back room huddle with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, which resulted in $87 million in taxpayer funded improvements to Bank of America Stadium.
Judge Richard T. Sumner dismissed the claim. He sided with city attorneys who argued it was brought under a 40-year-old lawsuit, which was based on state law. That has since been repealed and replaced.
“We’re pleased with the judge’s ruling,” said City Attorney Bob Hagemann. “We didn’t think it was appropriate to reach back 40 years to a law that no longer exists to try to hold the council accountable.”
Attorney Paul Whitfield argued that the legal principle underlying the state’s open record statutes is still valid.
The ex-reporters, most of whom were part of the 40-year-old lawsuit, said they accepted the judge’s ruling but did not agree with it.
“A sympathetic judge has fallen for the okey-doke, the smoke-and-mirrors, the BS,” said Ken Koontz in a news conference outside city council chambers. “So now, public, what are you going to do about it? We’ve given it our best shot.”
The ex-reporters say they don’t have the money to appeal Judge Sumner’s dismissal or re-file a lawsuit under existing open records laws. Those laws have an exemption allowing closed door meetings for “economic development,” such as retaining existing businesses. But the journalists argued that transcripts of the secret discussions show that council discussed taxes and spending that went well beyond the Panthers and their private stadium.
“Maybe what this proves is you can’t fight city hall,” said Wayne Powers, now a radio host at WBT-AM. “Not when the city has unlimited tax funds to fight you with.”
The ex-reporters say while they don’t have the funds to continue the legal battle, they would solicit any legal firm willing to do the work pro bono – for free – because they believe in the legal principle of open government.