ALABAMA–The University of Alabama must release 12 pages of enclosures from a National Collegiate Athletic Association letter alleging NCAA violations involving former university football players Gene Jelks and Antonio Langham, according to a mid-May decision by the Circuit Court in Tuscaloosa. The enclosures specify the details of the violations.
The court noted that no law required anyone to create the documents in question, and held that the enclosures were not public records per se. Nonetheless, the court ordered the university to disclose the enclosures no later than the June 2 NCAA hearing scheduled on the underlying allegations. The court reasoned that the public interest in the enclosures outweighed any interference with the investigation such disclosure might cause.
The court said, however, that University President E. Roger Sayers’ decision to delay release of the enclosures had been based on legitimate concerns, and noted that the documents’ eventual release had never been in question.
The Birmingham News had asked the University of Alabama in mid-December 1994 for access to the mid-September letter and the university’s response. Decision on release of the university response is still pending, according to Hollinger Barnard, attorney for the newspaper.
The university said in mid-December that it had already released the letter but would not disclose the response because it was privileged, attorney-client information.
The News reiterated in early March its request for the entire letter and the response, noting that the university had disclosed the NCAA’s cover letter but not the 12 enclosed pages that specified the allegations. The university responded in late April that it would release more information once the NCAA inquiry had been closed.
The News asked the Circuit Court in late March 1995 to compel the university to release the enclosures, arguing that the Alabama open records act requires the university to release the questions and allegations that the NCAA had enclosed in its letter.
Previous state case law defined public records under the open records act to include documents “reasonably necessary” to keep Alabama citizens informed of “activities required to be done” by public officials.
University President E. Roger Sayers argued at an early-May 1995 court hearing that to release the enclosures prior to the early June hearing would interfere with an ongoing investigation by the university. (The Birmingham News Co. v. Sayers; Media Counsel: Hollinger Barnard)
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