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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ind. Decisions - "COA rules for ESPN and against Notre Dame in police records lawsuit"

The Court of Appeals opinion this morning in ESPN, Inc. and Paula Lavigne v. University of Notre Dame Security Police Dept., a Dept. of the University of Notre Dame du Lac (ILB summary here) is now the subject of this story by Margaret Foosmoe in the South Bend Tribune. Some quotes:

An Indiana appeals court has ruled that the University of Notre Dame's police department is a public agency and subject to open records laws, rejecting the university's arguments that its police records should remain closed and handing media network ESPN a win.

"There is a danger that the public will be denied access to important public documents when a private agency is exercising a public function," the Indiana Court of Appeals wrote in its ruling today.

But the impact of the legal victory could be limited. As the case was being argued earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly -- at the prodding of private universities, including ND -- passed a bill that that would exempt police forces at private colleges from following the same crime reporting requirements as other law enforcement agencies.

That bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Mike Pence, would go into effect July 1. * * *

The ruling is consistent with those in several states that also have held a private entity exercising a public function is considered public.

The South Bend Tribune and Hoosier State Press Association filed a brief in the case supporting ESPN and arguing that Notre Dame police reports and logs are public records. Attorney General Greg Zoeller also backed ESPN, arguing that Notre Dame's police department reports are public records.

But the appeals court ruling "may have limited impact," because of House Bill 1022, said attorney John Twohy, who represents the Tribune in the case.

Indiana's private universities got the sense they might lose the court case, and managed to get the bill passed to exempt themselves from following the crime reporting requirements as other police agencies, he said.

Independent Colleges of Indiana, a private organization, and Notre Dame helped write the bill that was adopted by the General Assembly. State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, was the lead sponsor of the bill.

"In the end, they got what they wanted," Twohy said of the private colleges. "It was disguised as a pro-press measure, but it was anything but."

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, called the appeals court ruling "a short-lived victory.

House Bill 1022
was written to "innoculate" private colleges against an adverse ruling in the ESPN vs. Notre Dame case, he said.

"I'm not sure if legislators truly intended to treat private university police departments differently (under the law), or if there was confusion over what the bill would do," Key said.

The bill would require the colleges to release some information about incidents that result in arrests or incarcerations for criminal offenses, but that is only a small number of cases on private campuses. The measure also says colleges would have to release crime information that they already are required to release under federal law.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 15, 2016 01:29 PM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions