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Friday, May 22, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "In very short order every police department at every private college is going to have to open their records"

That statement is Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, who is quoted in this story today by Jake New of Inside Higher Ed:

Sworn police departments at private colleges in Ohio are public entities and subject to state open-records laws, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday, saying that a college being a “private institution does not preclude its police department from being a public office.”

The ruling came a day after the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill requiring private institutions’ police departments to release some records, and one month after a judge in Indiana reached the opposite conclusion in a lawsuit against the University of Notre Dame.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said. “This is the direction the country is going in, and in very short order every police department at every private college is going to have to open their records. The legal fig leaf just got a lot smaller.” * * *

Unlike other sworn law enforcement agencies, sworn police officers at private colleges historically have not been seen as subject to open-records laws, even though they have the same authority as the agencies that are required to release records. That was the case at Otterbein, which has used sworn police officers since 2011.

A recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly 40 percent of private colleges now use sworn, state-certified police officers, a growing trend that LoMonte said should result in more states requiring private colleges to release police records to the public.

While a judge rejected a similar argument in Indiana, LoMonte said he expects that decision to be appealed. In that case, ESPN is suing the University of Notre Dame for access to campus police records regarding sexual assault cases involving athletes.

In April, a Superior Court judge ruled that while Indiana state law allows private colleges to hire sworn officers, those police departments are not separate legal entities from the university. “If Notre Dame is a ‘public agency’ because it appoints police officers, it is a public agency, period,” the judge wrote.

“The Indiana judge just flat got it wrong,” LoMonte said. “He got really hung up on this idea that you can’t separate the police force from the institution. He treated it as an all-or-nothing question where, in order to open the police department, you have to open every record at Notre Dame. I think the judge really got hung up on a nonexistent technicality, and I think that will get corrected.”

ILB: Here is yesterday's Ohio decision, and here is an April 30th South Bend Tribune call for the General Assembly to clarify Indiana's law. However, ESPN announced May 20th that it will "appeal a northern Indiana judge's ruling that the University of Notre Dame police department is not subject to the state's open records law," as reported in this Chicago Tribune story:
Lawyers for ESPN filed a notice Wednesday with the Indiana Court of Appeals that it would appeal the April 20 ruling by St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler.
ILB: Here is the 11-page, April 20th opinion by Judge Hostetler.

See also this Jan. 21, 2015 ILB post
on the Indiana Public Access Counseler's opinions which "put Notre Dame on notice about its handling of police records after complaints filed by ESPN and the South Bend Tribune," according to the SBT story.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 22, 2015 08:52 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Government