A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court’s ruling and sided with the Burlington Times-News in a dispute with the Alamance-Burlington school board involving access to minutes of the board’s closed-door discussions. The appellate judges have ruled that the trial judge in the case should review the minutes “in camera” — a legal phrase “meaning in private, not in open court” — to determine which portions of the minutes should remain private and which can be released to the public.

Judge Richard Dietz writes:

[C]ore personnel information such as the details of work performance and the reasons for an employee’s departure will remain permanently exempt from disclosure. But other aspects of the board’s discussion in the closed session, including the board’s own political and policy considerations, are not protected from disclosure. On remand, the trial court must review the minutes and determine which information is exempt from disclosure and which should be disclosed to the public.

Among other opinions released this morning from the N.C. Court of Appeals:

  • A unanimous three-judge panel offered a mixed opinion in a dispute involving the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the House of Raeford chicken processing plant near Rose Hill in Duplin County. A trial court had ruled that DENR could assess House of Raeford a $25,000 civil penalty for waste discharge into a local creek. Appellate judges sent the case back to the Superior Court for further work on findings of fact in the case.
  • Appellate judges split 2-1 in favor of sending a Rockingham County zoning dispute back to a trial court for further action. At issue is a proposed bird-dog training facility that generated complaints from prospective neighbors.
  • In an unpublished opinion with limited precedential value, a unanimous three-judge panel reversed a lower court and ruled in favor of the N.C. Division of Employment Security in a dispute over whether a fired Davidson County nursing assistant was eligible for unemployment benefits.