Everyone knows the wheels of justice turn slow but that’s exceedingly true when it comes to the lawsuit that the News & Record and three other newspapers filed against Guilford County and the State of North Carolina last year over a change in the county’s public notice law.
On Monday, March 4, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said there had been “no movement” on the matter – which means it’s been more than a half a year with no activity on the case and with none in sight.
In September 2018, the State of North Carolina filed its response to the lawsuit by the newspapers; however, since then it’s been all quiet on the lawsuit front.
Early in 2018, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved a change in the way public notices – such as meeting announcements, foreclosure notices and tax liens – could be disseminated in Guilford County. The move, made possible through special legislative permission from the NC General Assembly, removed the requirement in Guilford County that public notices appear in a paid subscription newspaper. Instead, the new legislation gave Guilford County – and other local governments and private parties in the county – the right to meet the legal requirements of public notices by posting those notices on the county’s website.
The News & Record, High Point Enterprise, Jamestown News and Carolina Peacemaker– which stand to lose a lot of advertising money – filed suit against Guilford County and the State of North Carolina over the county’s new practice.
That lawsuit is expected to be heard – someday, some year – by a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court.
Like Payne, Guilford County Clerk to the Board Robin Keller said on Monday that she hadn’t seen any activity at all related to the lawsuit.
The Clerk to the Board’s office is the one that’s handling the public notices that newspapers once printed. When the News & Record filed its lawsuit, Guilford County also put off hiring additional public notice help for the Clerk to the Board until the case was settled – however, in mid-January the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, in a move that virtually no one saw coming, added a new assistant clerk to the board position.
That means that office now has two assistants, though it’s not clear if the new assistant will eventually play a role in handling public notices. If the county wins the case and moves forward the county could add yet another position – that one dedicated to handling the notices.
The longer the case is delayed, the better for the News & Record and the three other newspapers, because, when the lawsuit was filed last summer, Guilford County froze in place its plans for expanding the program.
The county had already begun posting the county’s public notices on the county’s website rather than in the newspapers, but the real pain for the newspapers will come once Guilford County begins taking the notices from municipalities and private businesses that are required to post the notices.
As long as the case is tied up in court, the News & Record and the other newspapers will keep that business unless the county changes its current policy of remaining in a “holding pattern” until the case is decided.