It took a long time to pry our most recent story on SBI agent Mark Isley from the N.C. Department of Justice. Isley, you may remember, is the agent accused of phonying up a false confession that kept a mentally retarded man in Dorothea Dix mental hospital for 14 years.
The N&O asked for the details and documents of the SBI's settlement with Isley in July. It took 12 weeks, a lot of prodding and lawyers before the office of Attorney General Roy Cooper released the public records. State law requires public servants to release public records in a reasonable amount of time. These records were clearly public. Let us know if you think this was reasonable time.
Here's the timeline.
July 23: The News & Observer requested the information on the Isley settlement from then SBI Director Robin Pendergraft in an interview. That afternoon, we followed up with an email detailing that request and others.
August 11: We repeated the request in an email listing all outstanding requests.
August 16: Ditto.
August 30: Ditto, but with stronger language
September 2: Ditto, but this time The N&O copied the email to Attorney General Roy Cooper, SBI Director Greg McLeod, N&O Editor John Drescher, and lawyers for the paper.
September 13: Requested again. This time we cite the payment to Isley's lawyer.
September 14: Requested again. This time we wrote the following:
“The News & Observer first requested details on Mark Isley's settlement with the Department of Justice on July 23, 2010. We have received nothing, despite repeated followup requests.The following information could help you locate the information and documents we request.
"On Oct. 24, 2005, the Department of Justice paid Ferguson Stein Chambers, a law firm, $1573.53 in legal fees for the Isley settlement. The check number was 418693.
The News & Observer again requests copies of ALL documents relating to this settlement, including all concessions or considerations given to Mr. Isley during this settlement.”
September 17: The Department of Justice gives its first substantive response, as follows: “The department is aware of your request for these materials. I don't have an answer for you on this yet but I am continuing to follow up on it.”
For the next three weeks, lawyers for the N&O exchange letters, emails and phone calls with the Department of Justice.
October 11: The Attorney General's office acknowledges possession of documents and promises them by October 15.
October 15: The Attorney General's office releases a 38-page file to N&O's lawyers.