Last month Gaston County’s Board of Commissioners filed a libel suit against The Gaston Gazette because of an article questioning the county’s process for settling workers’ compensation claims. Next week the commissioners will vote on setting aside $100,000 to pursue that action.
Four First Amendment experts say the suit itself is constitutionally questionable — and one says the process of filing it may have violated North Carolina's Open Meetings Law.
Elected officials get upset over news coverage every day. Occasionally some sue for libel — though there’s a very high bar public officials have to clear to win such suits.
But public bodies suing over coverage of their official business?
"It is extraordinary. I have never heard of this," said Amanda Martin, an attorney for the North Carolina Press Association.