Attorneys for the University of Wyoming filed a response to a joint lawsuit by several Wyoming news organizations seeking documents related to the exit of former university President Laurie Nichols.
In documents filed in Albany County District Court last week, the university said UW did not violate the law in withholding a number of files that could have brought clarity to the conditions around Nichols’ demotion, including performance reviews or investigations that may have taken place during her tenure.
Additionally, the university argued Thursday that since Nichols was not fired — rather, her contract was not renewed — it was under no obligation to gives reasons for the decision.
The university has withheld numerous documents related to Nichols’ exit, saying they qualified as privileged personnel information under state law. The news organizations — the Star-Tribune; news site WyoFile; and Adams Publishing Group, which owns the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and the Laramie Boomerang — have argued that the content of those documents is a matter of public interest and should negate any potential privacy concerns.
Attorneys for the university disagreed.
“Respondents have insufficient knowledge regarding the public’s interest in the University president’s performance, and therefore deny the same,” they wrote in their response. “Respondents affirmatively assert that the public interest in a ‘personnel file’ is irrelevant to the issues presented in this case.”
The university also said it was under no obligation to provide a reporter with the Star-Tribune a “privilege log” — or a list of the documents that were denied, with specific reasons for doing so — under state law, a claim the media organizations’ attorney, Bruce Moats, disputed in an interview Monday afternoon.
“It’s covered by litigation that went up to the Wyoming Supreme Court, which interpreted that was required by the Public Records Act,” Moats said. “That was interesting — I had not anticipated that one.”
Some of the documents could be revealed during hearings on the case, which are anticipated to take place sometime in early October. To make a ruling on whether the university was right in withholding personnel files, the judge would likely have to review the documents in question. He could then disclose the content of those records before making a ruling, Moats said.
“Like everybody else, I don’t know what’s in the content,” Moats said. “That always makes it harder to judge sometimes. But I certainly think it is appropriate for the judge to review this information and make a determination, to review the records and decide whether the public should know about this or not.”