LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville appears to have made a deliberate attempt to keep "embarrassing and damaging" information from the public, a judge ruled Tuesday, ordering the school to turn over all documents used by former President James Ramsey when he decided to keep the team out of the 2016 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Jefferson Circuit Judge Barry Willett also ruled that the university must pay the court costs for Dr. Peter Hasselbacher, who had sought the records, because the documents were "willfully withheld."
U of L must conduct a "diligent" search for records possessed by the school or former NCAA compliance official Chuck Smrt and turn the information over within 30 days to Hasselbacher, founder and president of the Kentucky Health Policy Institute.
U of L had previously filed a lawsuit asking the judge to rule the Kentucky Attorney General was wrong in finding the school violated Kentucky's open records law when it allegedly conducted an "inadequate" search for records requested by Hasselbacher. U of L denied those records existed, arguing, in part, that Smrt was an outside consultant who was not subject to the state open records act.
But Willett ruled that a record used or controlled by a public agency -- such as a university -- must be released "even though it is in the possession of an independent, outside consultant."
"The University has consistently refused to produce those records based on an unreasonably narrow interpretation of Dr. Hasselbacher's open records request," Willett ruled. "Moreover, the University has never articulated a plausible legal basis for denying Dr. Hasselbacher access to those records. Under the circumstances, the University's conduct appears to be nothing more than a deliberate attempt to conceal information that it considers to be embarrassing and damaging to its reputation."
Willett also chastised the university for delaying the case, writing that while the school requested an "expedited hearing" at the "earliest practicable date," U of L "permitted this case to sit dormant" for more than a year without taking any action to resolve it.
In an opinion released in August 2016, Kentucky's top lawyer ordered U of L to look more thoroughly for documents used by former Ramsey when he decided on Feb. 5 of that year to keep the men's basketball team out of the 2016 NCAA tournament.
U of L initially responded to Hasselbacher's request with a one-sentence letter sating the university had no records responsive to his request, without further explanation. Willett wrote that the open records law requires public agencies to engage in "active dialogue" with a person who has requested records.
"The University's conduct fell below the standards established by the Open Records Act," Willett ruled.
Attorney General Andy Beshear's office had asked to see the records Smrt has, including documents related to the NCAA's investigation of the school, but said U of L refused.
Spokesman John Karman said the university has not yet seen the ruling and could not yet comment.
Hasselbacher said he is "pleased" with the ruling but wanted to talk with his attorneys before commenting further. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Hasselbacher. An attorney for Hasselbacher could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ramsey resigned in July 2016, ending a 14-year tenure at the university.
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