Court orders Indiana Univ. to release some records from investigation of basketball coach

After falling behind by several early baskets in its legal battlewith Indiana University, The Indianapolis Star made a comeback byimplementing a full-court press. For nearly three years, the two sides havebeen embroiled in a conflict over the release of documents prepared by aninternal investigation targeting former IU basketball coach BobbyKnight.

The Indiana Court of Appeals decided May 2 that the universitymust release records that specifically deal with Knight’s dismissal as headbasketball coach and the accompanying records of punitive actions taken againstKnight. The court, however, ruled the university can deny access to documentsthat include confidential material regarding identifiable students of theuniversity or that include non-factual information.

After severalcomplaints by Knight’s players about his physically abusive coaching style, twoIU trustees, who are also attorneys, started an internal investigation in 2000that eventually led to Knight’s dismissal. Neil Reed, a former IU basketballplayer who played for Knight, issued the most widely-publicized complaint, whichasserted that Knight had attempted to choke Reed during apractice.

The Indianapolis Star sought records from theuniversity’s investigation of the Reed incident, including “copies of any notestaken during the course of the investigation, information gathered during thecourse of the investigation and reports written as a result of theinvestigation.” 

After the university refused the newspaper accessto these records, and offered only summary reports of the investigation writtenby the trustees, the newspaper sued the university in March 2000 for violatingthe Indiana Access to Public Records Act.

The university claimed that thematerials were protected by an attorney work-product privilege. The Starcountered that these privileges had been waived when the university chose torelease some of the records in news conferences.

The trial court heldthat the documents The Star sought were exempt under state open recordslaws, and thus, it was not necessary for the university to release any of theinvestigatory materials.

The appeals court, however, found that recordscontaining findings of fact could be turned over to the newspaper, but that theinformation must be redacted to protect student privacy.

The appealscourt also ruled that additional information could be withheld if a lower courtfinds that the trustees of the university were serving as attorneys for theschool.