Decision closing private college police records is allowed to stand by Georgia Supreme Court

The Georgia State Supreme Court May 23 declined to review a lower court’s ruling in a lawsuit to make Mercer University Police Department records open to the public. The 6-1 decision effectively ends a court battle that has lasted more than a year.

The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision not to rule in the matter means supporters of Ga. Senate Bill 153 — a bill that seeks to make private university police documents public records — will double their efforts to see the bill’s passage when the state legislative term begins again in January, they said.

The case against Mercer University began in July 2003, when Amanda Farahany, a lawyer representing a female student who alleged she had been sexually assaulted at a fraternity party, asked the private school’s police force to provide her with documents of investigations. When the police declined, Farahany asked a state court to order the school to release the documents under the state open-records law. In January 2004, the court sided with Farahany, saying private campus police officers are granted the same duties and powers as public police officers under Georgia law.

Mercer University appealed the ruling and the Court of Appeals ruled in February that the campus police department is not a public agency under the state open-records law, which led to the state Supreme Court appeal by Farahany.

The state Supreme Court gave no reason for its decision not to hear the case.

FOI advocates were disappointed, but optimistic that the legislative fix would move forward.

“This should add strength to our effort to pass Senate Bill 153 next year because it upholds the strict interpretation of the Court of Appeals and leaves to the Georgia general assembly the charge to close the loopholes in Georgia’s Open Records Act,” said state Sen. Dave Adelman (D-Decatur), who introduced the bill.

Carolyn Carlson, co-chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Campus Crime subcommittee and a proponent of the legislation, expressed surprise that the court, which she said has traditionally been open to freedom of information cases, did not hear the case. She said she is now looking forward to seeing Senate Bill 153 passed.

“The legislative solution is all we have left,” Carlson said. “We’ll focus everything we can on getting that bill out of the House committee and onto the House floor for a final vote”