LSU, newspapers reach deal over search records
BATON ROUGE (AP) — LSU’s governing board agreed Monday to hand over information about its secretive presidential search to a state district judge, but not to the two Louisiana newspapers that sued for access to the records.
District Judge Janice Clark ruled more than four months ago that the LSU Board of Supervisors violated state public records law by refusing to release the documents, including resumes and qualification information about the 35 candidates considered.
But the LSU board refused to comply with Clark’s order that it immediately provide the information and release the names of the candidates. LSU attorney Jimmy Faircloth argued that would take away the university system’s right to appeal.
To get the case moving again, Faircloth and attorney Lori Mince, who represents the newspapers, worked out a deal that will have the LSU Board of Supervisors providing the candidate information to Clark — but the documents will stay under seal.
The compromise means The Advocate and The Times-Picayune newspapers won’t get to see the records or learn the candidates’ names while the Board of Supervisors appeals Clark’s ruling. The appeals process could take many months, according to the lawyers in the case.
“We obviously would have preferred that the documents would have been produced without any restrictions,” Mince said.
Clark accepted the agreement Monday, calling it progress in the case.
“I think we have a resolution ... I think things are moving along,” the judge said.
Faircloth and Mince quickly signed the paperwork after the court hearing, kneeling on a bench outside the courtroom to finalize the deal. Faircloth said the records — held by a Dallas-based search consultant hired by LSU — should be turned over to Clark by Tuesday at the latest.
“They can be delivered electronically,” Faircloth said.
Mince will be allowed to review the records to make sure she agrees that they comply with the judge’s order, but she won’t be able to discuss the contents with her newspaper clients, except to describe what type of information was received.
F. King Alexander was hired in March as the LSU System president and main campus chancellor. The search committee, made up of mainly Board of Supervisors members, refused to release information about other candidates being considered for the job and only forwarded Alexander’s name to the full board for hiring.
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.
Last week, Clark became so frustrated with the LSU board’s refusal to disclose the presidential search information that she ordered the local sheriff to seize the records. But the armed deputies returned to court empty-handed after university system officials said they didn’t have the documents because they were housed in Texas.
With a compromise reached, Clark said she’ll set the date to decide any fees and penalties that she will levy on the LSU Board of Supervisors when she receives the documents.
Contempt of court fees, tallied at $500 per day by Clark, also will stop accruing when the records are filed with the judge. The fine has reached about $63,000.
After the penalties are assessed, Faircloth said LSU can file its full appeal of the case.