LSU search lawsuit slated for trial

The lawsuit claiming the LSU Board of Supervisors avoided state law to secretly choose the new head of LSU is scheduled to go to trial Thursday, according to pretrial motions filed in court Monday afternoon.

Lawyers on both sides, however, have filed motions that could postpone the hearings until next week.

State District Judge Janice Clark has not ruled on the motion to consolidate the lawsuit filed by The Advocate and NOLA.com with a similar action filed by The Reveille, the LSU student newspaper, that is set for a hearing April 30 before 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley.

The Prehearing Memorandum and Exhibits filed Monday by both sides outlined the legal positions the publications and the LSU board would take at the trial.

The publications all made public records requests for documents about those who applied for LSU’s top job. At issue, generally, is the publications’ contentions that the LSU Board acted contrary to Louisiana law by creating a system that would allow them to select, without public scrutiny, F. King Alexander, the president California State University, Long Beach, as president of the LSU system and chancellor of the LSU Baton Rouge campus.

Alexander will make about $600,000 per year to run the system with about 54,000 students and one of the largest hospital systems in the country.

“This wasn’t some secret process,” said Jimmy Faircloth, the Pineville lawyer who represents LSU. The process was discussed in open meetings, he said.

LSU contends that Alexander was the only applicant for the job and information on him already was made public. All but 10 of the other candidates were nominated and were not true applicants, he said.

Loretta Mince, the New Orleans lawyer representing The Advocate and NOLA.com, said Monday the board’s “one applicant” argument is “a sham” that defeats the purpose of the state law by picking the winner then instructing him to apply.

R. William Funk & Associates, a Dallas-based firm, was contracted by the LSU Foundation in September to assist in the search. The LSU Foundation is a private entity that is not covered by the state public records law, Faircloth argues, adding that other information is in the hands of Funk, also a private entity.

About 100 candidates were identified through advertisements, personal contacts and nominations, according to court records.

Funk created a private website that allowed members of the LSU Board and its search committee to review the candidates, Blake Chatelain, the LSU Board member in charge of the search committee, said in a deposition taken last week. The website contained information such as ré sumé s and research.

By February, Funk winnowed the pool to 35 candidates that Chatelain called “active” in his deposition. Chatelain testified that three of the five finalists were interviewed, a fourth and fifth withdrew from consideration.

Chatelain testified in deposition that Alexander, as the finalist, was interviewed by two separate groups of board members in order to avoid having a quorum at either meeting. State law requires boards to allow public access to meetings when a quorum, or majority of members, gather.