Louisiana court won't hear LSU appeal in presidential search records case

LOUISIANA — An appeals court has denied Louisiana State University a stay of proceedings of a district court that ruled the university must release the names of candidates in its most recent presidential search.

The Advocate, a Baton Rouge newspaper, filed a lawsuit against LSU in April when the university refused to release applications for the presidency and other search documents. Andrea Gallo, editor-in-chief of LSU’s student newspaper, lost a similar suit asking for the candidates’ names in May.

The Advocate won its suit in late April, with a district judge ruling that the names were public record and had to be released.

The district court has not yet issued a final judgment, however, leaving unsettled a portion of the suit seeking attorney’s fees and damages.

The district court’s decision cannot technically be appealed until a final judgment is made, but LSU filed a writ in an attempt to have the case heard by the First Circuit Court of Appeals and to stay the district court’s proceedings. LSU argued in the writ that “absent a stay of proceedings, the issue of whether the District Court was correct in its findings will be moot and any appellate review thereafter will be purely academic.”

The writ was denied Friday.

Despite the denial, LSU’s attorney Jimmy Faircloth said the rulings in The Advocate and Gallo suits are “diametrically in conflict” and the school does not plan to release the names “until the litigation has completed.”

“The litigant has an appeal right” to be heard by the First Circuit, Faircloth said, and the school will file a suspensive appeal when the trial court makes a final judgment.

The Advocate ’s attorney, Lori Mince, said LSU cannot put off releasing the records.

“There is an order in place that says LSU must produce the records immediately and that ruling is in effect right now,” Mince said.

According to reports in The Times-Picayune, lawyers for The Advocate and other media involved in the suit filed a motion to have LSU held in contempt of court 15 days after the district court’s ruling. NOLA Media Group, which publishes The Times-Picayune, is also involved in the suit.

Faircloth called that motion “completely premature.”

The lawsuit arises out of a presidential search that concluded March 27 with the selection of F. King Alexander, the only finalist publicly identified by LSU trustees. Louisiana law requires releasing the names of candidates for state college presidencies, but LSU has argued that, since all of the preliminary screening was done by a private headhunting firm, Alexander was the only “candidate” actually considered.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.