Judge to sheriff: Seize LSU records

On a roller-coaster day that saw sheriff’s deputies thwarted in their efforts to enforce a state judge’s order to collect records associated with LSU’s secret presidential search, the judge and attorneys for The Advocate, The Times-Picayune and the LSU Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that a partial resolution could be in the works.

District Judge Janice Clark emerged Tuesday evening from a lengthy closed-door meeting with the attorneys and said the lawyers will work the rest of the week, and over the weekend if necessary, in an attempt to reach a stipulation that would have LSU produce the records to the judge, pending further proceedings in the case.

The attorneys on both sides said such a move could put a halt to the $500-a-day fines the LSU board has been incurring the past several months for not complying with Clark’s April 30 order to turn over to The Advocate and The Times-Picayune newspapers the names and resumes of the 35 candidates for the position of LSU president. Those fines now total about $60,000.

Clark — who found the LSU board and its then-chairman, Hank Danos, in contempt of court last month — ordered the attorneys to report back to her Monday afternoon on their progress.

“We’re just conceptually discussing a way that involves producing the records in a protected fashion,” Jimmy Faircloth, who represents the LSU board, told reporters following a marathon day of court proceedings in the public records lawsuit.

Lori Mince, an attorney for both newspapers, said if a stipulation can be reached, the documents would initially be submitted to the judge while LSU asks the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to review Clark’s April 30 order. The 1st Circuit and the Louisiana Supreme Court previously denied LSU’s request that the order be overturned, but LSU contends it should be permitted a full appeal.

“The judge very much wants LSU to produce the records,” Mince told reporters.

“We don’t want LSU to be fined. We don’t want anybody to go to jail. We just want the records,” she said.

Talk of a possible stipulation put an end to a day that was just as tumultuous as the one before.

Clark had threatened Monday to possibly jail members of the LSU board for not complying with her April order.

On Tuesday, a clearly frustrated Clark ordered East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux to seize records associated with LSU’s presidential search — records The Advocate has been seeking since February. The judge instructed the sheriff to take whatever actions necessary, including the use of warrants, to collect the documents.

Two sheriff’s deputies arrived at the LSU Systems office Tuesday afternoon to enforce the judge’s order, but they left the campus without the records.

Bob Rasmussen, assistant vice president for LSU System Relations, said they do not have those records. He said they are in the possession of R. William Funk and Associates, a Dallas-based consulting firm that helped the board make its decision.

“What they asked us to give them is not in our possession, and all we told the sheriff’s deputy is that we do not have the records, we have nothing to give you,” Rasmussen said in an interview. “Everything we have has been turned over to the court.”

Deputy Merv Wardlaw testified Tuesday that LSU System officials told him any further documents are in Dallas.

“Something is truly amiss. Do we need a federal marshal?” Clark asked.

“Your honor, they looked in the wrong place,” Faircloth told the judge.

Clark shot back that she did not care to hear anything further from Faircloth because she already had appointed the Sheriff’s Office — “in the place and stead of” the board — to seize the records because the board was either unable or unwilling to produce them.

“This court has given you from April 30 to today … to comply,” she told Faircloth.

The judge noted that the people of Louisiana “continue to be deprived of their right to know, their right to have access, their right to be informed.”

When Faircloth again tried to speak, Clark stated, “Thank you so much, sit down.” She then called for a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the courthouse to enter her courtroom.

Mince asked the judge not to believe the board’s contention that a consulting firm has control of the records in question.

“It is well within LSU’s power to comply with your order,” she said. “LSU is the legal custodian of these records.”

Clark went on to say that LSU’s refusal to turn over the records from the presidential search is going to cost the public a substantial amount of money.

“The taxpayers of this state,” she said, “have to bear that expense — people who have endured hurricanes, people whose schools are substandard, people who have to fund a state university.”

Clark said something is wrong when a private out-of-state contractor thinks it can tell Louisiana residents they cannot look at what she has deemed public records.

The Advocate filed suit after the LSU board refused to release the records. The Times-Picayune joined the case a week later.

LSU’s search for a new president ended in March with the selection of F. King Alexander, former president of California State University in Long Beach, Calif.

In a separate suit, state District Judge Tim Kelley — one of Clark’s colleagues on the 19th Judicial District Court — ruled against the editor of LSU’s student newspaper, who also was seeking release of records in the search for a president. That ruling was not appealed.

Joe Gyan Jr. can be reached at jgyan@theadvocate.com. Ryan Broussard can be reached at rybroussard@theadvocate.com.