Missouri judge orders university to release student judicial records

Thursday, January 28, 1999

A Missouri state judge has ordered Southwest Missouri State University to hand over student judicial records to a student reporter who had requested information on campus crimes.

Circuit Court Judge Henry Westbrooke ruled on Jan. 26 that the 1998 federal Higher Education Act, a law which requires public institutions to “prepare, publish and distribute” information about campus crime, applied to this case. In addition, Westbrooke ordered the university to reimburse Patrick Nolan of the Southwest Standard $5,803.74 for attorney's fees, as required by the Missouri Open Meetings and Open Records Law.

“We are pleased to have this order from the court, which effectively resolves the issue of what information should be released,” said Bob Glenn, dean of students at Southwest Missouri State. “The court order is essentially how we had read the law, but there was enough confusion between the federal and state laws that we felt it was appropriate to ask for a court order.”

The university filed a lawsuit in state court against student Patrick Nolan last November to determine if student judicial records should be made public under the state's open-meetings law. Nolan, a reporter at the student newspaper, had filed a formal request on Nov. 20 for the records from the university in Springfield.

School officials note that the state law — also know as the Missouri Sunshine Law — requires officials to sue the person making the records request.

“As we said when we filed the lawsuit, we think it is important that the courts, the media, the students and the university are all clear about which records can and cannot be released,” Glenn said in a statement, “The purpose of the lawsuit was to seek clarification from the court on these questions.”

Kansas City, Mo., attorney Blaine Kimrey, who represented Nolan, agreed that the case wasn't the “traditional adversarial situation.” He said he and John Black, the university's attorney, had several candid discussions about how to handle the situation.

“It's a wonderful result for (Nolan), and not a bad result for the university,” Kimrey said. “Now they have a judge's order to back them up on release of these records.

“And it was all done relatively quickly,” he added. “This could have gone on for a long time, and those records would have stayed sealed the whole time.”