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Judge orders release of university investigation records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         GEORGIA         Freedom of Information         Oct 31, 2002    

Judge orders release of university investigation records

  • Three newspapers gain access to documents in investigation of alleged sexual misconduct of university band director.

Clarke County Superior Court judge Steve Jones ruled that the University of Georgia is obliged to make public documents concerning an investigation of sexual misconduct involving the director of the school’s marching band.

In his decision, Jones held that the public had a valid interest in knowing about accusations of misconduct made against an employee of the University of Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Athens Daily News and The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s campus newspaper, all requested access to the records of an internal investigation by the University of Georgia into the alleged misconduct by the university’s band director with a student.

The investigation ultimately cleared Dwight Satterwhite, the accused band director, of any wrongdoing.

After the newspapers requested investigation records, a University of Georgia graduate student named in the investigation filed a lawsuit for a temporary protective order barring the documents from release.

The court disagreed and held that under Georgia law, there is a strong presumption in favor of disclosing information to the public: “Where there is a legitimate public interest in information contained in the document, that privacy interest must yield to the policy interest in open government.”

Information could be withheld however for “competing public policy reasons.” This includes information that is “unsubstantiated and based on hearsay… [and] does not relate to the public record.” Such information should be withdrawn from public disclosure. The judge used this to deny release of information he considered inappropriate.

The name of the student who made the accusation, however, was redacted from the records.

“[The] identity of a student obliquely involved is not of legitimate public concern,” Jones wrote in his opinion.

(Doe v. Board of Regents) GS

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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