LOUISIANA — Louisiana State University’s Board of Supervisors has turned over records from its recent presidential search to a judge after reaching a compromise in court Monday with the newspapers that sued the school.
The board turned over public documents to District Court Judge Janice Clark, who will hold them until the board has exhausted its options for appeal.
The Baton Rouge Advocate and NOLA Media Group, which publishes the New Orleans Times-Picayune, sued for access to the documents earlier this year shortly after the board named F. King Alexander the sole finalist. Clark ruled in the newspapers’ favor in April and ordered LSU to release the documents, but the school refused to comply with her order.
The compromise was not ideal, but was still a step forward for the newspapers, said Peter Kovacs, The Advocate’s executive editor.
“We’ve removed the documents from the custody of … a board that has shown that it’s not willing to respect the rule of law,” he said. “What we did not succeed at is getting the records released to the public in a timely way.”
Lori Mince, the newspapers’ attorney, said she was confident an appellate judge would rule in their favor. An appellate court and the state supreme court already denied LSU’s request to stay Clark’s order to release the records.
Clark found the board in contempt last month. She fined them $500 a day for each day the records were not released — now up to around $60,000 — and threatened board members with imprisonment. Last week, she ordered sheriff’s deputies to confiscate the records, but the university denied having the records.
Kovacs said one reason the paper agreed to the compromise was that there was otherwise no assurance the school would ever release the records.
After a request from LSU attorney Jimmy Faircloth, William R. Funk & Associates, a private consulting firm that carried out the search, agreed to give the records to LSU to give to the court. A representative from Funk’s firm declined to comment for this article.
Kovacs said a trial would be held next week to decide how much LSU must pay for the papers’ attorney fees. Once that is settled, the university can appeal the decision.
“We remain confident that the records are not public records and will pursue an appeal of Judge Clark’s ruling,” Faircloth wrote in a letter to Funk that was entered into court record. “In the meantime, however, it is in the best interest of LSU to find a way to terminate expensive litigation in the trial court.”
By Samantha Sunne, SPLC staff writer. Contact Sunne by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.