Student newspaper sues for access to documents in football player’s suit

OKLAHOMA — The Oklahoma State University student newspaper has filed a motion to obtain documents in a civil suit between the university and a student football player.

On Sept. 15, The Daily O’ Collegian submitted a request to the university for the legal documents, which was denied days later by OSU’s legal counsel. The O’ Collegian then asked an Oklahoma district court on Sept. 28 to grant it access to the records, which purportedly contain information regarding OSU running back Vernand Morency’s lawsuit against the university.

Morency was suspended from the football team in the spring of 2003. He filed a civil suit against the university to maintain his student status and athletic eligibility. The lawsuit was dismissed on Sept. 30, 2004. Morency is still a student at the university and a member of the football team.

In denying the paper’s request for the documents, OSU contended that opening the records would pose an unwarranted invasion of privacy for the parties involved. The university also cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, saying that universities are prohibited from disclosing educational records pertaining to enrolled students.

The O’ Collegian received an anonymous tip regarding Morency’s civil suit in September, which led the newspaper to an OSU police affidavit in which Morency was accused of sexually assaulting a female OSU student. Due to lack of sufficient evidence, criminal charges against Morency were never filed.

In April 2003 Morency was charged with knowingly accepting a stolen bike. He initially pleaded guilty but later entered a plea of not guilty, in accordance with a plea bargain. The case was dismissed and the charge was expunged from Morency’s criminal record.

After Morency’s civil suit against OSU was dismissed, an agreement between Morency and the university stipulated that the records would remain sealed.

“[The university] told us it was to protect the victim,” said O’ Collegian Editor in Chief Jared Janes, which led the paper to speculate that the records referred to the alleged sexual assault.

The O’ Collegian maintains that the records should be made available because Morency is a public figure who sued a state-funded institution. “They have to present a compelling reason as to why the records should remain sealed,” said O’ Collegian attorney Robert Nelon.

OSU Associate General Counsel Scott Fern said the university is in the process of responding to the O’ Collegian’s motion.

The case is set for a Nov. 4 hearing.