The Advocate and WBRZ-TV sued Southern University on Monday over the school's refusal to release the findings of its probe into a faculty member embroiled in a recent controversy involving the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.
The newspaper had cited Louisiana's open records laws in May in requesting the documents related to the school's investigation into Dorothy Jackson, a professor in charge of the Southern University Law Center's Elder Law Clinic, but the university claimed her privacy must be protected. The school gave the same response to WBRZ's July public records request.
Southern University is refusing to release its investigation into a law school faculty membe…
Southern, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in 19th Judicial District Court, has "no factual or legal basis" for withholding records of an internal investigation of an employee by a public employer concerning possible misconduct in carrying out the function of the public employer.
As part of her work at the taxpayer-supported clinic, Jackson acted as attorney for the late Helen Plummer and notarized her will, which named Council on Aging Director Tasha Clark-Amar to manage Plummer's estate. Jackson is a board member and the former attorney for the Council on Aging.
After Plummer's death, her family accused Jackson and Clark-Amar in a lawsuit of swindling the 95-year-old grandmother who the family says was not of sound mind. The will's terms allowed Clark-Amar to be paid $120,000 over the next 20 years to oversee Plummer's trust, which is valued at $314,000.
State District Judge Donald Johnson removed Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-…
Clark-Amar voluntarily withdrew as executor of the estate amid the backlash, but claimed she had a genuine relationship with Plummer before she died and visited her often. Clark-Amar is suing Plummer's family in state court for defamation.
State District Judge Don Johnson removed Clark-Amar, whose mother is state District Judge Janice Clark, from overseeing Plummer's estate in April. Jackson stepped down from her role as attorney for the estate.
Southern placed Jackson on paid administrative leave in April while it investigated the matter.
East Baton Rouge Council on Aging board member and attorney Dorothy Jackson has been placed …
W. Scott Keaty, one of the attorneys representing The Advocate and WBRZ, said Southern conducted an investigation of Jackson concerning her role as an administrator of the Southern Elder Law Clinic and its relationship with the Council on Aging. An investigative report exists, he noted.
"Despite our repeated requests for this report and any other documentation of this investigation or its results, Southern has refused to produce any such documents," Keaty said. "Accordingly, we are filing a petition seeking these documents as the public has an undeniable right to understand how a public entity operates, to be advised of the work-related conduct of a public employee, and to know how public funds are spent. Again, public business must be subject to public scrutiny in order that the public can have confidence in its government."
The plaintiffs in the suit are The Advocate and reporter Andrea Gallo, and WBRZ and anchor/chief investigative reporter Chris Nakamoto. The defendants are the Southern Board of Supervisors, Southern Law Center Chancellor John Pierre and Southern University System spokesman Henry Tillman.
"It's a topic of great interest and importance involving a public institution, and we believe the public has the right to see this information," said Fred Kalmbach, managing editor of The Advocate. "We're glad to work together with WBRZ in seeking documents that by law should be made available."
Winston Decuir Jr., an attorney for Southern, said the school is trying to balance "two very different interests."
"The university is trying to make a very delicate balance between a public employee's privacy rights and the public's right to know what's going on in a public agency," he said. "The university is going to follow whatever guidance is provided by the court."
The lawsuit is assigned to state District Judge Tim Kelley.
The suit seeks records of any Southern investigation into Jackson, the Elder Law Clinic, and the Council on Aging's relationship with the clinic or the law center within the past year. The suit also asks for documents related to the Jackson suspension and investigation.
The attorneys for The Advocate and WBRZ are Keaty and Joshua G. McDiarmid with the Baton Rouge law firm Kantrow, Spaht, Weaver & Blitzer.