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Appeals court dumps judge’s dispute with town over records

December 19, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina court on Tuesday rejected a judge’s open-records lawsuit against a police department that detained his son, saying the judge failed to follow the right procedure.

The state Court of Appeals nullified the lawsuit Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett of Manteo filed against the town of Kill Devils Hills because he failed to start mediation within a prescribed 30-day time limit. The court said Tillett is free to ask the town again for an insurance provider’s private review of police conduct and to sue again if he’s refused.

Tillett has battled the Outer Banks town since its police officers detained his adult son in 2010 without clear explanation. Tillett’s son was not charged, and the reason for his traffic stop has not been made public.

Tillett’s lawsuit involved a state law declaring most documents, emails and other records kept by state and local governments open to public inspection. The town turned over some of the records Tillett sought, but refused to produce an insurance provider’s private review into police department workings.

A judge last year had ordered the town to turn over the insurer’s evaluation, and documents relating to the 2011 suspension of Police Chief Gary Britt and his reinstatement two months later.

Town officials contended the records Tillett requested contained personnel and criminal investigative information. That prompted appeals judges who heard the case in October to question whether an exception for personnel records could be extended to keep any document referring to an employee from the public eye. In the end, the three-judge panel didn’t decide that question, but dismissed the case on a technicality.

Tillett was reprimanded in 2013 for misuse of power after pressuring the town’s police and the local prosecutor in ways that seemed threatening. The Judicial Standards Commission, which hears complaints against judges, found Tillett’s conduct threatened the public’s confidence in the court’s integrity and impartiality.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery_dalesio .

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