On Jan. 4, Courthouse News Service published an investigation into former U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s final months as CEO of Dollar General, an especially timely report that calls into question his record as a businessman as he runs for governor of Georgia.
Using court records Reporters Committee attorneys helped the news outlet unseal through litigation last year, reporter Daniel Jackson revealed previously hidden details about Perdue’s effort to sell Dollar General to a private equity firm.
“In a publicly traded company such as Dollar General, the owners of the company — the shareholders — let the board of directors control the company. That board, in turn, hands over management of the company to individuals such as the CEO,” Jackson reported. “But unsealed court records suggest it was months before the Dollar General board fully learned of Perdue’s communications with” Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co., the firm that ultimately bought the company and took it private in 2007.
The investigation raises important questions about Perdue’s record as a businessman — a record he touts on the campaign trail.
With the help of the unsealed court records, Jackson came to a number of conclusions. Here are a few of them:
- In addition to failing to inform board members about his meetings with a private equity firm to discuss taking Dollar General private, the former CEO allegedly leaked confidential information about board deliberations.
- While one expert said in an affidavit filed in the case that Perdue’s actions did not ultimately affect the sale of Dollar General, the former CEO’s behavior was still “inappropriate.”
- In depositions, Dollar General board members expressed frustration with Perdue’s performance as CEO. Speaking of the $100,000 salary increase Perdue requested despite the company’s flat stock prices, one board member suggested that the CEO was “looking to line his pockets with money as opposed to maybe doing the right thing for the company.”
How RCFP attorneys helped
In 2007, shareholders of Dollar General sued the company over its plan to sell the business to the private equity firm. While the parties reached a settlement the next year, more than 90 filed court documents, including their exhibits, remained shielded from the public. The records were sealed by a stipulated protective order entered by the court in 2007 and included depositions of Perdue, who was among the individuals named in the lawsuits.
In December 2020, Courthouse News Service, represented by Reporters Committee attorneys, filed a motion to intervene and unseal all of the documents hidden from the public as a result of the stipulated protective order. The motion was filed about a month before Perdue’s high-profile runoff election in January 2020. As Courthouse News Service explained in an article about its motion at the time, the court documents were important because Perdue’s campaign made a big deal about his record as the CEO of Dollar General. Perdue ultimately lost the runoff to Democrat Jon Ossoff, helping Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate.
Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Tennessee, argued on the news organization’s behalf that members of the news media and the public have a presumptive right of access to the sealed court records under the First Amendment, Tennessee Constitution and the common law.
During a hearing in December 2020, a judge ordered the release of a redacted version of Perdue’s 2008 deposition. And in July 2021, the judge issued a final order unsealing the rest of the sealed records, along with related exhibits, in their entirety.
As a news organization that regularly covers civil litigation in state and federal courts, Courthouse News Service has filed a number of lawsuits in recent years challenging court system rules delaying access to newly filed civil complaints. The Reporters Committee, joined by coalitions of news media organizations, have supported many of those lawsuits in friend-of-the-court briefs, including in Courthouse News Service v. Schaefer and Courthouse News Service v. Planet and, most recently, in Courthouse News Service, et al. v. Glessner.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.