Two weeks after filing a lawsuit against Southern University, two Baton Rouge news organizations on Monday won their public records case about the school's refusal to release the results of its probe into law professor Dorothy Jackson.
Jackson, who has been on paid administrative leave since April, waived her privacy rights, clearing the way for the public to see the investigative file once Southern's attorneys strike any personal information or attorney-client communications from the documents.
Attorneys for The Advocate and WBRZ-TV, Southern and Jackson appeared Monday afternoon for the first hearing in the public records suit, but Bill Aaron, one of Jackson's lawyers, announced to state District Judge Tim Kelley that she had decided to waive her privacy rights and consent to the release of the report.
Scott Keaty, one of the attorneys for The Advocate and WBRZ, said he is confident the paper and station would have won even if Jackson had not given up her right to privacy.
Kelley ruled that Southern must pay the legal fees incurred by The Advocate and WBRZ, which Keaty estimated would total at least $10,000.
"They won," the judge said to Southern attorney Winston Decuir Jr. Southern had rejected public records requests asking for the investigative report, citing concerns about Jackson's privacy.
Jackson, who runs the Southern University Law Center's taxpayer-supported Elder Law Clinic, was put on leave four months ago while the school investigated her involvement in the writing of a will for a now-deceased 95-year-old grandmother who was a client of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.
Jackson, who acted as attorney for Helen Plummer and notarized her will in mid-2016 at Southern's law clinic, is a Council on Aging board member and the former attorney for the parish agency. Plummer's will named Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar to manage the estate for $120,000 over the next 20 years. Clark-Amar was later removed as executor, and Jackson stepped down as attorney for the estate.
Plummer's family has questioned the will and accused Clark-Amar of unduly influencing their relative. For her part, Clark-Amar has filed a defamation lawsuit against some members of Plummer's family.
Meanwhile, Southern University has initiated disciplinary proceedings involving Jackson, according to a letter obtained by The Advocate.
The letter sent to Aaron, Jackson's attorney, says the university has formed a faculty committee to review charges lodged against the law professor.
Southern University Law Center Chancellor John Pierre wrote on Aug. 14, stating that "based on allegations made by the family members of Helen Plummer," the university has three charges against Jackson.
The three charges are engaging in "conduct seriously prejudicial to the Southern University Law Center and the Southern University System," "unethical and immoral behavior," and failing to "perform duties in a professional manner."
The charges will be submitted to a faculty committee for "review and disposition," the letter says.
Aaron confirmed that he'd received a letter with the charges, saying Jackson did nothing wrong, and looks forward to providing evidence that clears her name.
He said the university has not been able to demonstrate a single policy that Jackson violated.
"Law professors at all law schools in Louisiana and across the country all have gigs on the side," he said. "My concern is that this seems to be singling out Professor Jackson for something not expressly prohibited by the university."
Aaron questioned why the university would launch a second investigation into his client's actions after it already had concluded a probe that yielded the "20 plus-page investigative report" that is at the center of The Advocate's lawsuit.
He also said the charges listed in the letter were inconsistent with the initial university investigation and overly broad.
"It's sort of like, you're being indicted for murder but we won't tell you who we murdered," he said, in particular taking issue with the charge of "unethical and immoral behavior." "To say it's overly broad is an understatement."
The Southern Law Center released a statement after Monday's court proceeding stating that the school's law clinics have provided needed legal services to more than 2,900 people in the community since 2013.
"The law clinics provide valuable services to many who have no other option, while creating a unique educational experience for future lawyer leaders," the statement read. "We do not intend to let this issue detract from the overall mission of the SU Law Center's clinical education program and the mission of the Law Center to be an institution of access and opportunity."
Keaty said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse that the documents sought by the paper and station are public records, plain and simple. Jackson works at a public university, so the taxpayers are her employer, he noted.
"We don't think there's any gray area," he said. "We hope this will set a precedent."