Public Records Act Does Not Apply to Work Product
On September 30, 2008, Charlotte zoning inspectors searched property owned by Wallace Farm pursuant to an administrative warrant. Approximately two weeks after the search took place Wallace Farm mailed a public records request to the Charlotte City Manager requesting all public records from the preceding ten years that referred to its property. After exchanging some correspondence with the Charlotte City Attorney's office, Wallace Farm filed a motion to compel production of the requested public records in Mecklenburg County Superior Court on November 2, 2008.
Before the date of the hearing on the motion to compel production, the city produced 21,424 pages of documents to Wallace Farm. The City withheld 225 documents on the ground that they were trial preparation materials. Judge Richard D. Boner agreed with the City and determined that the withheld documents were not subject to the Public Records Act.
Judge Bryant, joined by Judges Jackson and Robert N. Hunter, Jr., determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the City to withhold the documents. Although the Public Records Act encourages liberal dissemination of public records, the Act contains an explicit exception for public records that qualify as "trial preparation materials." After conducting an in camera review of the documents at issue the court determined that the documents were not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act because they "contain mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of city attorneys or other agents of the City in reasonable anticipation of litigation."