LSU found in contempt for failing to release presidential search records

LOUISIANA — A Louisiana university was found in contempt of court Wednesday for its failure to produce records related to its recent presidential search.

The order of contempt — and $500 per day fine that accompanied it — is the latest in a months-long legal battle between Louisiana State University and media outlets in the state over records related to the presidential search that hired F. King Alexander.

Judge Janice Clark ordered Louisiana State University to release its presidential candidates’ names on April 30, but the school has not yet done so, citing a desire to appeal, given a conflicting ruling in a second lawsuit.

The Advocate and The Times-Picayune both sued for access to the records in April, in a lawsuit that was combined. Andrea Gallo, then-editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper, also sued. In the Advocate suit, the newspapers prevailed; in Gallo’s suit, the university prevailed.

Because of the different outcomes, the university wants the case to go before an appellate court, said LSU Director of Media Relations Ernie Ballard in an email statement Wednesday.

The university has not been able to appeal because Judge Clark has not yet issued a final judgment settling the portion of the suit seeking attorney’s fees and damages. The school’s request for a stay of proceedings was denied in July.

Ballard said that the university is not yet ready to give in.

“Today, Judge Clark held LSU in contempt of court and imposed severe penalties for its failure to comply with the judgment rendered by Judge Clark, despite clear law providing that LSU will lose its right to appeal if it complies with the judgment by the appeal becoming moot,” Ballard wrote.

“LSU is committed to pursuing all available appellate relief and to obtaining a proper judicial resolution of a critical issue that can have substantial impact on the recruitment of the best qualified person for academic and other leadership positions throughout the state.”

LSU conducted its presidential search through its private, nonprofit foundation. Previously, the university said it could not release copies of the applications submitted by candidates because they were in the custody of the foundation.

The fine goes back to April 30, excluding dates between May 23 and June 6, when the school had a stay on the order, said Lori Mince, attorney for The Advocate. The total fine so far is approximately $46,000, Mince said.

Mince said the fine is owed to the court and that the media aren’t interested in the money.

“We don’t want them to pay fines,” Mince said. “We just want them to produce the records. So hopefully this will motivate them to do that. We’ll see.”

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