University of Louisville broke open records laws, ruling finds

The University of Louisville repeatedly violated the Kentucky Open Records Act by denying records to Courier Journal reporters about scandals in the athletic department, the state attorney general’s office has found.

In a March 13 opinion, the attorney general’s office said the university failed to provide some records in a timely fashion and didn’t provide others at all, including personnel files for former basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

The 13-page opinion also said the university improperly withheld emails from interim President Dr. Greg Postel and phone and text records for Pitino and fired assistant coaches Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson.

Assistant Attorney General Gordon Slone also found that the university improperly redacted the destinations of recruiting trips on the grounds that it might identify recruits, in violation of a federal student privacy law.  The opinion says the law doesn’t apply because the recruits weren’t yet students at Louisville.

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Additionally, Slone found that the university wrongly cited a privacy exemption in refusing to release the names of people who sent in comments for and against lacrosse coach Kellie Young, who was fired in November after Courier Journal reported that she’d been accused in a lawsuit of neglecting a player who required hospitalization after she said she was overworked in a conditioning drill. 

“This is a win for Kentucky taxpayers who have a right to know how the public institutions they pay for are run,” said Joel Christopher, Courier Journal executive editor. “We will continue to aggressively seek access to public information that allows people to make informed judgments about how their university operates.”

That portion of the opinion dealing with the privacy exemption could be significant because the university routinely redacts the names of people who communicate with the president and other university officials.

“They said when somebody writes to the university, their name is private. That’s just not true,” Michael Abate, one of Courier Journal’s lawyers, said.

He said the opinion also was important because the university was taken to task for repeatedly failing to respond in the time set out under the act. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” Abate said.

The university can appeal. John Karman, a spokesman for the university, said it had just received a copy of the opinion and was reviewing it.

The records had been sought by sportswriters Jeff Greer and Danielle Lerner and columnist Tim Sullivan.

Greer had sought Postel’s emails for the five days in September after the FBI investigation of college basketball was revealed in an indictment that implicated but didn’t name Louisville.

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Slone found the university improperly redacted recruiting travel expense records for Pitino, interim coach David Padgett and other coaches on the grounds that releasing them could identify recruits in violation of privacy laws and NCAA regulations.

The university cited a previous opinion that allowed it to redact travel destinations of an internal investigator exploring potential violations of criminal law.

But this week’s ruling said that the university’s expenditures in recruiting student athletes “does not carry the same heightened privacy interest as travel expenses to interview witnesses in an internal investigation. And the ruling says the federal privacy law doesn’t apply because the recruits weren’t students yet.

Abate noted that the university had routinely released such travel records previously and “without explanation reversed course.”

On the letters to Young, Slone found that the public’s interest in knowing who wrote the letters outweighed privacy interests of those who wrote them.

He noted in the ruling that some of the writers might have known important facts about Young. He also said there was no evidence that the people who wrote the letter “relied on any assurances of confidentiality.”

The opinion also said the university violated the open records law by:

»  Failing to respond in a timely manner to the request for Postel’s emails or to provide a detailed explanation for the delay.

»  Failing to give Greer a copy of the entire personnel files for Pitino and Jurich and providing only their termination letters.

»  Providing “information” rather than records in response to Lerner’s request for payroll records for Padgett, Pitino, and fired assistant coaches Fair and Johnson. “Just as this office has long held that a request for information need not be honored under the act, it is also true that a request for records is not satisfied by providing information in lieu of the requested records,” the opinion said.

»  Failing to provide telephone and text messages of Fair, Johnson, Pitino and Padgett as requested by Lerner. The opinion said that the university’s custodian of records initially said it would take up to two weeks or more to locate and redact the records, without giving a specific date or explanation for the delay, as required under the act. 

»  Failing to respond in a timely manner to Sullivan’s request for information on payments by Adidas to the university and its coaches, and failing to set out the reasons for the delay.

Jurich and Pitino were both fired in October in the wake of two scandals, including a sex scandal for which the NCAA vacated 123 victories by the men’s basketball team, including the 2013 national title. A federal criminal complaint unsealed in New York in September also alleged that at least one coach at Louisville took part in a scheme last summer to funnel about $100,000 from Adidas to an All-American high school player that Louisville was recruiting.

Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; [email protected]; Twitter: @adwolfson.  Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/andreww

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