Covering Louisiana

Sep 26, 2013 5:29 PM by AP

LSU board hit with penalty in public records case

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The price tag for the LSU Board of Supervisors' refusal to publicly release its presidential search records has topped $140,000.

A Baton Rouge judge Thursday ordered the university system board to pay thousands of dollars in penalties and lawyers' fees to the two newspapers that sued for the information.

Judge Janice Clark applied the maximum $100 per day civil penalty from the time the public records request was filed until the board turns over all documents under seal. The fine reaches at least $25,000, but could grow higher because Clark is awaiting some records.

"The defendants' failure to respond appropriately was unreasonable, capricious and without cause," Clark said in levying the maximum fine.

In addition, LSU must reimburse The Advocate and The Times-Picayune for attorneys' fees and court costs.

Thursday's decision was estimated to cost LSU about $80,000 - on top of $63,000 in contempt of court fines that Clark earlier ordered against the board for refusing to turn over the records for more than four months after she ruled they should be released.

That tally doesn't include any money the Board of Supervisors is paying for its own contract lawyers in the case.

With Clark making a decision on that remaining piece of the case, LSU can file its full appeal of the judge's rulings. The legal wrangling has dragged on for months.

The two newspapers filed a public records lawsuit earlier this year after LSU refused to provide information about other candidates considered by the board's search committee before King Alexander was hired for the job.

Clark ruled April 30 that the board violated the law. But for more than four months, the LSU board wouldn't turn over the documents, saying it had a right to appeal the decision.

Earlier this month, LSU agreed to give the documents to Clark if they were kept hidden from the public and the newspapers while the board appeals the judge's ruling.

The records - including candidates' names and resumes - were delivered Sept. 17, but attorney Lori Mince, who represents the newspapers, said the documents appeared to be incomplete.

Without providing details, Mince told the judge Thursday that the information filed with the court contained fewer than the 35 candidates that the head of the search committee had said were considered.

LSU lawyer Jimmy Faircloth said the Dallas-based search consultant hired by LSU, William Funk, reported there were fewer than 35 candidates and turned in all the information he had about the contenders for the president's job.

"He said that's all there is," Faircloth said.

Clark said she wants the disparity explained and told Faircloth to get follow-up information from Funk, including a log of all the candidates for the president's job.

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