Judge will get LSU president search records

After four months in contempt of court, LSU’s Board of Supervisors has agreed to turn over records of its secret presidential search to a state judge who earlier this year declared the information public and ordered it released to The Advocate, attorneys for the newspaper and the school told the judge Monday.

LSU Board of Supervisors attorney Jimmy Faircloth and Lori Mince, who represents The Advocate and The Times-Picayune, said LSU will file the documents under seal with District Judge Janice Clark as part of a joint agreement and stipulation signed by the parties Monday afternoon.

But it could be months before the contents are made public, depending on how higher courts rule, the attorneys noted.

When a reporter asked Mince if she is OK with what transpired Monday, she replied, “OK is a relative term. We obviously would have preferred that the documents be provided to us.”

Mince said she hopes the agreement will expedite the process of getting the records into the hands of the public more quickly.

Mince will be allowed to review the documents submitted to the judge but cannot disclose the specific contents to the newspapers.

If the newspapers obtain any of the material from other sources, the agreement does not restrain them from publishing it, the attorneys said.

Faircloth said he will get the documents to Clark as soon as he can. They first must be retrieved from a Web portal maintained by R. William Funk and Associates, a Dallas-based consulting firm that helped the board make its decision.

“Maybe this afternoon. If not, tomorrow,” Faircloth told reporters outside Clark’s 19th Judicial District courtroom when asked when the names and résumés of the nearly three dozen semifinalists for the LSU president’s post will be delivered to the judge.

Once the documents are in Clark’s hands, the daily $500 fines that she slapped on the LSU board will halt, Faircloth said.

The judge, who declared the records public in late April and ordered the board to produce them, found the board and then-chairman Hank Danos in contempt of court in mid-August and imposed the fines retroactively and for each day forward that the board fails to comply with her order.

The fines, which go to the court, total about $63,000.

Next up is a trial, which could occur as early as next week, on whether the LSU board must pay attorney’s fees and damages to the newspapers. Once Clark rules on that issue, the LSU board will appeal Clark’s rulings to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. The Louisiana Supreme Court likely will have the final say on the matter.

The 1st Circuit and the high court previously denied LSU’s request that Clark’s April 30 order be overturned, but LSU contends it should be permitted a full appeal.

“I think things are moving along,” Clark said at the conclusion of Monday’s court proceeding.

Clark’s demeanor was vastly different last week, when she threatened to possibly jail members of the LSU board if the records were not immediately produced. The next day, she sent East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies to the LSU campus to seize the elusive documents. The deputies returned to her courtroom empty-handed.

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

The Advocate, which has been seeking the records since February, filed suit after the LSU board refused to release them. The Times-Picayune joined the case a week later.

The editor of LSU’s student newspaper filed a separate suit seeking release of records in the search for president, but state District Judge Tim Kelley ruled against the editor. That ruling was not appealed.