The Norman Transcript

August 27, 2013

Student to re-file lawsuit against university

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — After a hearing Monday, a University of Oklahoma student plans to re-file a petition, this time against the university, in lieu of a previous suit against President David Boren and the university’s director of the Open Records Office.

The hearing in Cleveland County District Court was regarding a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Joey Stipek, OU student and former online editor of The Oklahoma Daily.

The lawsuit was filed in May after the university repeatedly refused to release student parking citation information to employees of the university’s student newspaper.

During the hearing, District Judge Lori Walkley ruled that the petition will be dismissed and must be re-filed against the university instead of specifically against President Boren and Rachel McCombs, director of the Open Records Office.

“It’s unbelievable that only two of these individuals are named,” said Boren’s attorney Shawnae Robey, calling the petition “strong-armed tactics” against the Open Records officer and the president of the university.

According to the defendants’ reply filed Aug. 19, the wrong defendants were named and Stipek was not denied any request for existing records under the Open Records Act.

The document states that Stipek never made a request of Boren and was never denied a request by Boren. Boren is not and was not a member of the university’s Open Records Office and does not serve as a supervisor over the office.

Similarly, McCombs is not a member of the university’s records office and was not serving the university in that capacity when the petition was filed, the document states.

Also, the information that is in question is that of the university, not of Boren or McCombs. The document emphasized that Stipek’s issue is actually with university record-keeping and university obligations.

“This matter is not currently about an institution, it is about Rachel McCombs and David Boren — individuals without lawful control or authority over the already provided records or the non-existent records, which (Stipek) still fails to articulate he is lawfully entitled to force the university to manufacture and produce,” the document states.

Stipek’s attorney, Nick Harrison, said that the president’s office enforced the decision to not release certain records that were requested.

“I think it’s kind of splitting hairs. I think government officials should expect to get named in lawsuits if they make certain decisions,” Harrison said, however, they respect the court’s decision to re-file the petition.

“We’ll be back here in 30 days,” Stipek said. “My lawyer believes in me and I believe in my lawyer, and we’re going to win the case because the law is on our side.”

Stipek previously has said the whole case is built on precedence. Judges in North Carolina and Maryland have ruled that the same records are not protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, he said.

Boren has previously said that they are complying with the federal law when they do not turn over information relating to students.

“I personally am sympathetic with releasing all parking ticket information. The university already releases information in regard to myself and other individual officers, faculty and staff of the university,” Boren said. “We are required to comply with federal law, which prohibits us from releasing this information of this kind which relates to students.”

Boren also said if the federal law was changed either by congressional or judicial action, the university would comply with the law.

Stipek said the lawsuit stemmed from other students and OU employees telling him that student government and VIP administrators were receiving special treatment with parking citations, which is why student newspaper employees began requesting the information.

Stipek said he hopes other students will get involved at their schools and question their Open Records laws.

Jessica Bruha