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Reporters Committee urges North Dakota judge to open records

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  1. Freedom of Information
Court records related to the University of North Dakota's lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association over use of its…

Court records related to the University of North Dakota’s lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association over use of its “Fighting Sioux” logo should be opened for public scrutiny because the case involves a public entity and is a matter of great public interest, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urged in an Oct. 1 letter to the judge.

The Reporters Committee joins the Grand Forks Herald and its parent company, Forum Communications Co., in urging Judge Lawrence E. Jahnke to unseal records made secret in the judge’s hopes that the parties would reach a settlement. The group’s letter argues that Jahnke’s closure “prevents the public – and the media – from bearing witness to an important public process.”

“This dispute over the use of ‘Sioux’ as a team name has raged for more than a decade,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. “Although the desire by the judge for a settlement is understandable, it can’t come at the expense of the public being shut out of the process. At a minimum, the judge should follow the strict requirements for closure demanded by the First Amendment.”

The NCAA contends that the university’s “Fighting Sioux” team name and Indian head logo demean American Indians and has prohibited the university from using either during NCAA postseason tournaments. The university has defended its use of the nickname and logo.

Jahnke issued the sealing order Sept. 14 and Forum Communications Co. submitted its motion to unseal the filings Sept. 28. The judge has said he would unseal the filings Oct. 22 at a pretrial conference, however, the Reporters Committee argues it is important that the public have access to these filings immediately.

The trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 10.