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FIRST ON 3: District Attorney says no laws broken releasing Berger unemployment info

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WILMINGTON, NC (NEWS RELEASE FROM DISTRICT ATTORNEY BEN DAVID) - I have received e-mails from some concerned citizens questioning whether Commissioner Brian Berger's rights were violated when some personal information was released regarding his receipt of unemployment benefits.

I have consulted with County attorneys Wanda Copley and Sharon Huffman. Their response is attached. It is clear that, after research and consultation with legal experts in the field, the County determined that it was compelled by law to release the documents in question. In this case the County concluded that it had no legal basis to refuse to release the information. The release of the documents was a good faith effort to comply with the public records laws. From the evidence before me, no probable cause exists to indicate that the disclosure by the County violated any law of North Carolina.

I met with Mr. Berger's attorney, Joe Cheshire, last week. We both agree that no crime was committed by the County in its disclosure of the documents. However, earlier today Mr. Cheshire expressed concern about how the press first learned of the existence of the documents. He sent me the following statement from Commissioner Berger:

I believe that the government documents related to my unemployment compensation which were released to the Wilmington Star-News after the Star News made a specific public records request of the county, were first leaked to the paper by an employee of New Hanover County. I believe this leak is what generated the public request and subsequent release of personal and confidential personnel documents to the paper. Without this leak, I do not believe any request would have been made and confidential material in my file would have remained protected. I further believe this leak was a political act and violates the laws of North Carolina and maybe the United States. I first called your office and then asked my attorney Joe Cheshire to ask you to consider investigating this obvious leak. I did this because, it is unconscionable that any county employee would leak confidential information of another county employee to any entity or person for any reason, much less a reason that may be vindictively political. I can foresee that this type of action if not stopped will have a chilling effect on county personnel doing things like seeking necessary health care and other important personal necessities that might for some reason end up in their personnel me because they will worry that this sensitive information will be leaked for some personal, political or economic advantage or perceived advantage the leaker may wish to obtain. The only way to stop such action is to completely investigate them, disclose the findings of the investigation and put leakers on notice that there are consequences for their actions. Today, my attorney is sending a letter to the County attorney also seeking such an investigation by their office. I am proud to represent the people of New Hanover County, but I do not think that by doing the job the voters elected me to do, I, or anyone else should be the subject of this type of secretive attack.

To date, there is no evidence to conclude that any crime has been committed. If facts are developed in the future that laws were violated, my office remains open to ensuring that these violations are addressed in a court of law.

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