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In a final order released Tuesday, Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts dismissed a public-records lawsuit seeking to compel Asheville to provide a copy the police evidence-room audit commissioned by the city last year.
Letts did not detail reasons for dismissing the complaint against the city.
“After considering the pleadings and affidavits, as well as the Plaintiffs’ brief and the arguments of counsel, the Court rules that the Plaintiffs’ claims against the City should be dismissed with prejudice,” he wrote.
Letts added, “It is further ordered that the City’s request for attorneys’ fees be denied.”
During the Sept. 4 hearing of the complaint, the city had requested that the plaintiffs compensate the city for its payments to a Charlotte-based attorney hired to defend Asheville against the complaint.
The order follows a prior one wherein Letts dismissed the part of the complaint that sought the document from Buncombe District Attorney Ron Moore. In that ruling, Letts wrote that “the Complaint is hereby dismissed as to the named Defendant, ‘Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office’ since there is no such entity.”
Both of the orders can be read below.
The coalition’s complaint argued that the evidence-room audit, which was commissioned by Asheville City Council last year and cost $175,000, should be considered a public record and released. Moore’s attorney asserted that the complaint was invalid because it inaccurately named his office, and that the audit should remain concealed during the ongoing State Bureau of Investigation probe of missing evidence. The city’s attorney argued that since the city doesn’t have a copy of the audit, it should not be compelled to provide one.
Carolina Public Press coordinated the coalition of local media outlets that filed the lawsuit, which also included the Asheville Citizen-Times, Mountain Xpress, WLOS and WCQS.
Angie Newsome, CPP’s director and editor, commented: “This final order is disappointing on many levels. We still firmly believe the evidence-room audit belongs to the public, and we’ll decide in coming days whether to continue legal action to bring this document to light. In any case, we aren’t swayed from our mission of pursuing open government and being the watchdogs Western North Carolina deserves.”