A district judge in Baton Rouge awarded significant damages Thursday to the media outlets that sued LSU for information about its presidential search. NOLA.com reports the judge also ordered the university to pay attorney's fees.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and The Advocate sued LSU in April after the university would not release information about the candidates it considered hiring for president. The media outlets say the information is public record, while the university says F. King Alexander, who was ultimately picked for the job, was the only official "applicant" the law requires it to disclose.
Judge Janice Clark of the 19th Judicial District Court ruled in favor of the media outlets in April. On Thursday, she held a trial to determine the damages and attorney's fees the university is responsible for paying.
The total amounts are not yet finalized, but Clark ordered the university to pay $100 per day in damages, every weekday that they did not produce the records following the media outlets' public records request in March. Clark ordered separate damages of $100 per day for each media outlet, or about $12,000 for each.
Lori Mince, the attorney for the media outlets, also requested attorney's fees of $175 per hour, the rate that the Attorney General pays lawyers with more than 10 years of experience. State law says lawyers should be paid according to that schedule in public records cases.
However, Clark said the court has the discretion to change that. She elected to have Mince paid her usual rate of $350 per hour -- double what the Attorney General pays. The total figure has not yet been calculated, and the case involved other lawyers from the firm, but it could be around $70,000.
The university is also responsible for more than $60,000 in contempt fees because it didn't turn over the records after the judge's ruling.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the two sides came to an agreement where LSU would turn over information about approximately 35 "active candidates" that were considered for president. Those records would only be given to the judge, and would be kept sealed from the media outlets and the public until LSU has a chance to appeal the case.
On Thursday, Mince indicated that LSU has not provided the full list of 35 candidates. She could not be more specific, because of confidentiality terms in the agreement, but it was clear both she and the judge thought the number of names turned over was significantly less than expected.
"I would have not been surprised if it were approximately, or about, (35 people), but the number is not approximately or about that," Mince told the judge.
Jimmy Faircloth, the lawyer for LSU, responded that he had turned over all of the information given to him by the search firm that holds the records. The judge said the court will send a letter to the firm, ordering them to turn over the complete records, and threatened a subpoena if the information isn't produced.
Now that the attorney's fees and damages are finalized, Faircloth is able to appeal the case to the First Circuit. The final paperwork for Clark's case is expected to be completed by the end of the day Friday, and under the terms of his agreement with Mince, Faircloth has five days to submit his appeal.