Lawsuit prompts university to release records related to athletic director search

LOUISIANA — A public university agreed in January torelease records related to its search for a new athletic directorafter a local newspaper sued the university for access to thedocuments.

Louisiana State University had initially refused to releasethe names gathered by a private search firm, arguing that theinformation was not covered by the state’s open-records law. Theuniversity did release the names it gathered in the search.

In December, the publisher of Baton Rouge’s daily paper, TheAdvocate, and a sportswriter for the paper, Glenn Guilbeau,sued for access to a complete list of names of candidates LouisianaState University was considering in its search for a replacementof athletic director Joe Dean.

The university settled with the newspaper in January, agreeingto turn over the names of the candidates considered by the searchfirm. As part of the settlement, LSU agreed to be more forthcomingwith future information and to pay some of The Advocate’slegal fees, the amount of which will be determined at a futurehearing.

Heidrick & Struggles, an Atlanta-based search firm, wasworking on LSU’s behalf to help find a replacement for Dean. Theuniversity argued that because Heidrick & Struggles is a privatefirm, is located outside Louisiana and is separate from LSU, thenames of those interviewed by the firm were not subject to thestate’s open-records law.

According to Phylis Cancienne, LSU’s attorney, the universitydecided to give The Advocate the names it was requestingthe night before the first hearing in the case was scheduled tobegin.

"We settled it because The Advocate agreed to onlyaccept the names [of those in consideration]," she said."We really didn’t agree to do anything other than what the[open-records] statute requires."

According to Guilbeau, LSU gave The Advocate the fulllist of names immediately after the settlement was reached andthe university has already been more forthcoming with relatedinformation, giving the newspaper invoices detailing the costof the search and a copy of the contract between LSU and Heidrick& Struggles.

Although the university did not hire any of the candidatesinterviewed by the search firm, LSU is obligated to pay the firmbetween $150,000 and $200,000, according to Guilbeau.

By the time LSU released the names, it had already decidedto hire its own baseball coach, Skip Bertman, as athletic director.The Advocate did, however, get the information before theboard of supervisors’ meeting, at which the board officially appointedBertman to the position.

"The point is that they admitted they were wrong,"Guilbeau said.