Newspapers sue for access to settlement terms

ILLINOIS — Two state newspapers have gone to court to get detailsinvolving a secret settlement between Lake Land College and a former administrator.

The Mid-Illinois Newspapers, comprising the Mattoon Journal Gazette andthe Charleston Times-Courier, had tried to intervene in a federalbreach of contract lawsuit brought by former vice president Goble Jessupagainst the college after he was fired in April 1997.

A settlement in the Jessup case was reached before a federal judge inthe U.S. District Court in Urbana in September. But the settlement documentswere sealed by the court at the request of the college and Jessup, saidBill Lair, editor of the Times-Courier.

Jessup was employed by the college for 11 years, but reasons for hisdismissal were never given in an open session of the trustees. Jessup,formerly the vice president for business services and college treasurer,was fired because of insubordination, according to an article in the JournalGazette. Jessup originally sued the college for $1 million. Among otherallegations, he claimed the college’s board of trustees violated his four-yearemployment contract, which was not up until 1999.

“We feel the taxpayers of the district have a right to know what thecollege was paying [Jessup],” Lair said. “His salary was public knowledge;his termination was public knowledge. So this settlement, where the collegepaid him some amount of the taxpayers’ dollars, whether it was $1 or $1million, this too should be public knowledge.”

The school filed an objection to the newspapers’ requests to intervenelast fall. Judge David G. Bernthal denied the papers’ request to intervenein the settlement, ruling that the papers did not have a legitimate interestin the case, financially or otherwise.

“Judge Bernthal’s decision is telling the people here in the districtthat where their tax dollars go are not of public interest,” Lair said.

In April, the newspapers requested the records in state court. Lairsaid the newspapers have also appealed their case to the U.S. Court ofAppeals for the Seventh Circuit.