Judge orders LSU records seized
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — A Baton Rouge judge ordered the local sheriff Tuesday to seize information about LSU’s search for a new president, but the armed deputies returned to court empty-handed after university system officials said they didn’t have any documents to turn over.
“He demanded the documents. He received nothing,” said state District Judge Janice Clark.
The response added to Clark’s frustration over the LSU Board of Supervisors’ refusal to provide information about the nearly three dozen candidates considered during its presidential search, despite Clark’s April 30 order that the names be released.
A lawyer for the LSU Board of Supervisors said the information sought is held by a Texas-based consultant hired by the university — and an attorney for the local sheriff’s office said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux doesn’t have jurisdiction to seize documents there.
The Advocate and The Times-Picayune newspapers filed a public records lawsuit against the LSU board after it wouldn’t release information about the candidates board members considered before choosing the university system’s new president, F. King Alexander.
Clark ruled four months ago that the 35 applicants, their resumes and other documents involving their qualifications were public records.
The LSU board has said it planned to appeal the judge’s earlier order to make the documents public. But the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to delay Clark’s ruling that the documents be immediately produced.
After Tuesday’s seizure order turned up nothing, Clark and lawyers for both sides sought to hammer out a compromise.
Lori Mince, who represents the newspapers, and Jimmy Faircloth, who represents the board, said they were trying to reach an agreement where information from the LSU presidential search could be given to Clark, while still kept secret from the public while the university board lodges its appeal of Clark’s ruling.
“We want to comply with the court’s order, but we want to exercise our right to appeal,” Faircloth said.
He said LSU will file its appeal once there is a final judgment issued, but Clark hasn’t issued one. Clark has ruled the board and its then-chairman, Hank Danos, in contempt of court on Aug. 14 and fined them $500 per day for noncompliance, a penalty at $60,000 and counting.
Clark told the attorneys to return to court Monday to tell her if they’ve reached a deal.
The decision to try to find a compromise came hours after Clark ordered the documents seized by the sheriff.
“The power, authority and dignity of this court continues to be frustrated,” Clark said in issuing the seizure order.
Hours later, sheriff’s deputy Merv Wardlaw testified that he served the order, only to be told by LSU officials that they didn’t have any records to provide.
“They stated that any further documents were in Dallas, Texas,” Wardlaw said.
Faircloth said the presidential search information and candidate details are with the board’s search consultant, William Funk, whose firm is based in Dallas.
Alexander was hired in March as the university system’s president and main campus chancellor. The search committee, made up of mainly Board of Supervisors members, didn’t interview candidates publicly and only forwarded Alexander’s name to the full board.
LSU board members said the process was designed so sitting chancellors and presidents could be considered without worrying about their current positions. Alexander said he wouldn’t have agreed to be considered if the search wasn’t confidential.