12 Mar Gaming the system at the Division of Employment Security
N.C. Policy Watch by Sharon McCloskey
Update: A Wake County Superior Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction that requires the North Carolina Division of Employment Security (DES) to continue making hearing notices about contested unemployment claims available as it has done for the past decade.
With little fanfare in a quiet Wake County courtroom yesterday, Dale Folwell, the head of the state’s Division of Employment Security, squared off with a local attorney over a new agency directive restricting attorney access to unemployment appeal notices that had long been available for the asking.
While the question before Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway was whether those notices likely constituted public records such that he should stop DES from enforcing that directive pending a trial, what was said and unsaid by the parties spoke volumes about what the underlying intent of that policy shift just might be.
State attorneys told Ridgeway that DES had been providing those hearing notices to attorneys for years in error and in violation of confidentiality requirements, but Folwell’s testimony and his own actions leading up to the policy change demonstrated little concern for confidentiality.
What Folwell wanted to do instead was slow down the provision of the notices to attorneys and jack up the cost to them for that service, argued Jim White on behalf of the attorney challenging the new restrictions.
According to former DES deputy chairman and chief counsel Thomas Whitaker, who testified yesterday, not releasing the notices would severely restrict unemployment claimants’ ability to retain counsel and have due process during any hearing,
And put the lawyers trying to reach these claimants out of business, added White.
“In the end, if these law firms are out of business and people don’t have affordable counsel, we can reduce the amount of unemployment that’s paid in the state,” White said.