INDIANA — A state court ruled last month that the Indianapolis Star could not have access to Indiana University records pertaining to the investigation of former basketball coach Bob Knight because the records were protected by attorney-client privilege.
Six years ago, the Star reported that university President Myles Brand fired Knight as a result of his continuing pattern of “defiant and hostile” behavior, particularly toward player Neil Reed. The newspaper then requested information on the so-called “Reed materials,” a case in which Reed accused Knight of choking him at basketball practice and displaying soiled toilet paper in the locker room to motivate the team, to delve deeper into the circumstances under which Knight was fired.
The Star first requested the reports from university trustees John Walda and Fred Eichhorn, lawyers who investigated and compiled witness interviews as well as other documents for the case. When the university refused to release the documents, the newspaper filed suit in 2001.
The newspaper lost in the lower court and appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to the circuit court to decide the case on different terms relating to the role of the trustees, because they worked on the matter for free.
University officials said they were exempt from disclosing their records because of an attorney-client privilege, which excludes an attorney’s work product from disclosure under the state’s public records act.
The newspaper, however, claimed that there was no official documentation of the attorney-client relationship and argued that the university did not officially employ the trustees.
The court initially had dismissed the newspaper’s arguments on the grounds that an attorney-client relationship could be implied by the facts.
In response, the newspaper argued that the reports were not exempt from public access because they included witness interviews and notes.
But the court disagreed once again, stating that the attorney-client relationship between the university and trustees validated the confidential reports.
Dennis Ryerson, editor of the Star, said the court’s ruling represents another setback in granting full access to records that newspapers see as public information. Instead of appealing again, Ryerson is focusing on other opportunities in which his newspaper will have “a better chance of winning on these kinds of issues.”
“I hope that the access to information isn’t greatly narrowed because of how it’s been defined in this particular case; that’s the concern,” said Ryerson. “We disagree [with the court], but we’ll move on from here.”