SOUTH BEND, Ind. – ESPN has filed a lawsuit against University of Notre Dame, alleging the school is violating Indiana’s public record laws by withholding police incident reports about possible campus crimes involving certain student-athletes.
The lawsuit filed Jan. 15 on behalf of ESPN and its reporter Paula Lavigne says state Public Access Counselor Luke Britt has twice issued advisory opinions stating the university is subject to Indiana’s public records law. The lawsuit and opinions don’t specify what incident reports ESPN is seeking or which athletes may have been involved.
In his first opinion on Oct. 31, Britt said that while the university is private, Notre Dame Security Police Department is a public law enforcement agency subject to public records laws. He acknowledged that his view may be inconsistent with past opinions from other public access counsellors, but that it wasn’t inconsistent with Indiana’s public records law.
And earlier this month, he wrote that Notre Dame and other that private universities in Indiana that have professional police forces should follow the state’s public records laws despite being private institutions. He also noted that his October opinion “is not compulsory.”
Notre Dame has argued that it believes it is complying with state law, saying that three previous advisory opinions had agreed with the university that its police department and those of other private colleges and universities in Indiana are not public agencies.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said Wednesday the university believes its practices are in “full accord with the Access to Public Records Act and consistent with multiple advisory opinions that have addressed this matter over the past 12 years.”
“We are confident that our position will be affirmed in court,” he said.
The lawsuit, filed in St. Joseph County Superior Court, states Notre Dame told ESPN it does not have documents “responsive” to its request.
The lawsuit contends ESPN is entitled to an unspecified civil penalty, attorney’s fees, court costs and other expenses.