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In U of L Hoops Scandal, Calls To Board Members May Have Violated Law

University of Louisville trustees gathered on June 8, 2017, to examine a forensic audit of the school's foundation.
Kate Howard
University of Louisville trustees gathered on June 8, 2017, to examine a forensic audit of the school's foundation.

University of Louisville’s board chairman said Wednesday afternoon that the school’s decision to place the school’s basketball coach and athletic director on leave had the unanimous support of every trustee.

J. David Grissom, an attorney who leads the governing board, said he knew this because he personally called each of them, individually, as the latest basketball scandal unfolded. If so, one expert on Kentucky’s open meeting laws says, his actions were a clear violation of state law.

The Kentucky Open Meetings Act requires decisions to be made in open meetings after notice has been given to the public. Grissom said he called each member individually and each supported placing Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino on leave.

That is considered polling, an activity that’s banned by state law if it’s used to circumvent open meetings and privately discuss public business, said Amye Bensenhaver, a former assistant attorney general who wrote opinions on open records violations.

“To call them [all the board members] is a really clear violation,” Bensenhaver said. “He should not have picked up the phone and called each of those people. It’s a ‘series of less than quorum meetings,’ where the members attendance collectively constituted a quorum.”

Bensenhaver said the situation echoes the post-termination battle of another prominent basketball coach: Bobby Knight. His firing was the subject of a lawsuit that argued Indiana University violated the state’s open meeting law when it fired him in 2000.

According to news coverage at the time, the university’s president met with groups of trustees small enough to avoid a quorum, and never issued public notice of the meetings. Following those meetings, Knight was terminated by the board.

The board of trustees is the university’s governing board. Members are appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin. The group would have to vote on firing Jurich or Pitino, according to their contracts.

Bensenhaver said that the law would have allowed the U of L board of trustees to call an emergency meeting and meet in person.

“This is about as clear and direct an example of the violation that I’ve seen,” Bensenhaver said.

U of L spokesman John Karman said in an email Wednesday afternoon that the decision made Wednesday to place Jurich and Pitino on leave was administrative, and not up to the board.

"When Chairman Grissom informed board members of Dr. Postel’s decision prior to today’s public announcement, they were unanimous in their support," Karman said.

Jurich works "at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees," according to his contract.

Kate Howard can be reached at  khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.

This story has been updated to include a response from U of L.

Kate Howard is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

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