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Judge orders sheriff to seize LSU search records

Last Modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 4:29 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Baton Rouge judge ordered the local sheriff on Tuesday to seize information about LSU's search for a new president after university system officials refused to release the documents publicly.

Deputies with East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux headed to LSU to serve the order Tuesday afternoon, according to spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks.

A lawyer for the LSU Board of Supervisors, however, said the documents are in the custody of a Texas-based consultant hired by the university — and it wasn't immediately clear whether the local sheriff's office would have the authority to seize them.

State District Judge Janice Clark first issued a ruling on April 30 that the names of nearly three dozen presidential candidates were public record and must be released. Her ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by The Advocate and The Times-Picayune newspapers that claimed the LSU board violated the state's public records law.

The LSU board has said it planned to appeal the judge's earlier order to make the documents public. But the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to delay Clark's ruling that the documents be immediately produced.

"The court is of the opinion the Board of Supervisors of LSU and their attorney cannot, will not follow this court's order, and therefore, the court is going to appoint the sheriff ... to produce all of the documents," Clark said Tuesday in issuing the seizure order.

Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney for the LSU board, said the panel doesn't have any records to turn over to the sheriff. He said the presidential search information and candidate details are with the board's search consultant, William Funk, whose firm is based in Dallas.

"There's nothing for the sheriff to seize," Faircloth said. "There's nothing on any LSU campus or any LSU computer."

It was unclear whether the sheriff's office would be able to proceed with trying to retrieve documents from a consultant based in Texas. Faircloth said that would present "jurisdictional challenges."

Clark has expressed increasing frustration with the board for refusing to comply with her April 30 order.

She ruled the board and its then-chairman, Hank Danos, in contempt of court on Aug. 14 and fined them $500 per day for noncompliance, a penalty that is nearing $60,000 and counting. On Monday, she warned that the board could face additional sanctions, including imprisonment, if the documents weren't produced.

Faircloth has said LSU will file a formal appeal of Clark's decision once there is a final judgment issued, but Clark hasn't issued one.

A closed-door search led to the LSU Board of Supervisors hiring F. King Alexander in March as the university system's new president and main campus chancellor. Alexander had been president of California State University Long Beach since 2006.

The presidential search committee, made up of mainly Board of Supervisors members, didn't interview candidates publicly and only forwarded Alexander's name to the full board. The committee refused to list any others interviewed in the months-long search.

LSU board members have defended the process, saying it was designed so sitting chancellors and presidents can be considered without worrying about their current positions. Alexander said he wouldn't have agreed to be considered if the search wasn't confidential.

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