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University of Louisville Violated Open Records Law, Must Turn Over Documents, Attorney General Rules

The University of Louisville has violated the state’s Open Records Act and must release e-mails and documents regarding a high-profile report on the school’s financial controls, according to a recent ruling by the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

The university had been locked for several months in a public records battle with theKentucky Center for Investigative Reporting,which appealed the school’s public records denial to Attorney General Jack Conway’s office.

In a letter dated Aug. 27, Assistant Attorney General Matt James wrote that U of L officials violated the law by:

  • failing to respond to requests by KyCIR within three business days
  • not conducting a reasonable search of university employees’ records
  • not providing sufficient information about documents the school chose to withhold

The attorney general’s decision noted that school officials’ withholding of an earlier draft was not improper. But now, U of L must turn over “preliminary documents that were expressly incorporated into the report” as well as “any documents that formed the basis of the final agency action.”

University spokesman Mark Hebert said Wednesday: “The opinion speaks for itself.”

Hebert added that it is unlikely the university will appeal in state circuit court.

“Our counsel is reviewing the ruling to determine our obligations under the decision,” he said.

( Read the Attorney General's decision)

The university hired the outside auditing firm last fall to examine the school’s internal financial controls after a series of high profile thefts. The Louisville-based firm, Strothman and Co., has analyzed the books of other large government organizations, including Louisville-Jefferson County metro government and Jefferson County Public Schools.

Since last fall, the firm worked on the report, and it’s unclear when it wrapped up. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting filed an open records request in April to review the work done by Strothman.

U of L officials didn’t respond for several weeks. Then the university said there was no report. Later, it refused to turn it over, calling it a draft, which would be exempt from disclosure.

The school also deemed the request for memos, notes and other correspondence regarding Strothman’s work to be overly broad. School officials said it would be burdensome to locate any and all communications from the 6,000 employees and 22,000 students on its campus.

The attorney general’s office, in its ruling, disagreed.

“Although Strothman & Co. did interview many employees in the creation of its report, we find it unlikely that the vast majority of U of L employees contributed documents that were adopted,” the ruling stated.

U of L officials must look for the records, according to the attorney general’s decision.

That type of search, as noted in the ruling, will likely include inquiries to the “U of L department and supervisor responsible for the solicitation of the report” as well as the audit committee, the board of trustees and others “who could reasonably be expected to have been involved.”

The final version of Strothman’s report, which the school made public July 2,listed 17 recommendations.They ranged from hiring a chief financial officer to ensuring that all of the university’s computer systems are subject to the same security controls. The firm also recommended that non-university bank accounts be closely monitored.

Related: University of Louisville Releases High-Profile Audit

U of L’s Board of Trustees approved the firm’s recommendations with little discussion or debate, though some university insiders and other community members still wondered if the final report was substantially different than the earlier draft.

The university has until Sept. 26 to file an appeal of the decision in circuit court. If the school does not file an appeal, the attorney general’s opinion has the force of law.

This story was reported by Louisville Public Media's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Kristina Goetz is an investigative reporter specializing in higher education, military, law enforcement and public financing.