GEORGIA — Although lawsuits aimed at making private university police records public in the state have failed, one state lawmaker is pushing forward with a bill that would change the state’s open-records law to include those records.
State Sen. David Adelman (D-Decatur) introduced in February a bill intended to open law enforcement records from all educational institutions in the state. The bill became even more crucial in May, when the state supreme court refused to hear an appeal from an attorney who was trying to gain access to Mercer University’s police records.
In July 2003, Amanda Farahany, an attorney representing an alleged rape victim, filed the lawsuit. She was initially successful in her quest for the records when a superior court judge in February 2004 ruled that the department and its records were public.
The school appealed and a year later, the state court of appeals reversed the decision.
But Adelman welcomed the court of appeals’ decision, as he saw it as an invitation for the Georgia legislature to take up the issue.
‘The court of appeals’ decision, reversing the lower court, encouraged the General Assembly to make it clear that Georgia’s Open Records Act applies to campus police departments,’ Adelman said.
The bill, which passed the state Senate in March with a 45-0 vote, would make public ‘all law enforcement records received or maintained by an educational facility … [that] employs campus policemen, that relate to the investigation of criminal conduct and crimes …’
Adelman said the neighbors, employees, students and parents of the state’s private colleges and universities should have the same right to campus police records as they do to other law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
But private college and university advocates do not agree with Adelman about the public’s rights to private police department records.
Henry Hector, president of the Georgia Foundation for Independent Colleges, a group representing 27 of the state’s private colleges and universities, said his group’s view is the same as Mercer’s: Police department records at private colleges and universities should remain private.
‘I think it’s Mercer’s position that those are private records, period,’ Hector said. ‘And they don’t want someone coming in and doing a fishing expedition on their private records.’
After failing to pass through the House Rules Committee in time, the bill was recommitted to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has already met approval once.
Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, echoed Adelman’s optimism for the bill, saying she is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the bill will pass with bipartisan support.
The state legislature is scheduled to reconvene in January, at which time the bill will be in the House Judiciary Committee for a vote.