Judge awards attorneys fees to newspaper plaintiffs in LSU records suit

LOUISIANA — A district judge ordered Louisiana State University’s Board of Supervisors to pay attorneys fees and damages to two newspapers that sued for access to public records.

Judge Janice Clark awarded the (Baton Rouge) Advocate and NOLA Media Group, which publishes the New Orleans Times-Picayune, nearly $100,000 in damages and attorney’s fees on Thursday. In addition, the university must pay a fine of more than $60,000 for refusing her order to disclose the records.

Last week, the board asked R. William Funk & Associates, a private firm that carried out the search, to hand the records over to the court. Clark is holding them until the board has exhausted its options for appeal.

The records relate to 35 candidates in its presidential search last year, which resulted in the selection of F. King Alexander.

Now that the final order has been issued, LSU is expected to appeal.

Lori Mince, the newspapers’ attorney, said she was confident that higher courts would uphold Clark’s decision. An appellate court and Louisiana’s Supreme Court have already denied LSU’s request to stay Clark’s order.

“The courts have already spoken on the question of whether the records are public, and their answer has been yes,” The Advocate’s executive editor Peter Kovacs said.

LSU’s attorney, Jimmy Faircloth, argued in the original trial that the search yielded one “applicant” out of 35 finalists. In court Thursday, he said there were actually fewer than 35 finalists, according to The Advocate.

Mince, who was allowed to review the documents, said she couldn’t comment on the number of records turned over to Clark due to a confidentiality agreement.

“(But) I think the judge agreed that we had reason to be concerned about whether all the records had been provided, and has asked LSU to provide some additional information,” she said.

In court Thursday, Clark threatened to subpoena the firm and ordered another daily $100 fine until it produces all the records, according to The Advocate.

Over the past several weeks the judge has tried $500 daily fines, threats of imprisonment and the intervention of sheriff’s deputies to convince the board to hand over the records, all to no avail.

Representatives for the university could not be reached for comment.

By Samantha Sunne, SPLC staff writer. Contact Sunne by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.