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Judge to decide University of Nebraska records dispute

October 11, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A judge will decide whether the University of Nebraska-Lincoln must turn over any records withheld from a fraternity that was suspended following accusations of hazing, alcohol abuse and inappropriate behavior.

The university has withheld nearly 1,700 records from Phi Gamma Delta, which is suspended until May 2020. Members had been accused of making vulgar comments to women during last year’s Women’s March in Lincoln.

Administrators said an investigation into the chapter uncovered broader conduct issues over several academic terms. The university found that the comments made by Phi Gamma Delta members during the 2017 Women’s March “were consistent with the pattern of sexually harassing conduct evident in multiple other incidents.”

The public-records dispute was turned over to Lancaster County District Judge John Colborn on Wednesday, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. Colborn will eventually make a ruling on whether the university should release any of the withheld records to the fraternity, which seeks more information into the investigations of members’ alleged wrongdoing.

The university’s records director, Erin Bush, said most of the records are being kept confidential because they were part of Title IX investigations, which are under the federal law governing sexual assault and discrimination.

The fraternity chapter has had five Title IX investigations since 2015.

Bush said a blanket exemption applies to all documents in Title IX investigations, whether open or closed, to protect accusers and those accused. Bush withheld some documents because they contain information that would’ve identified students or university employees, she said.

A provision in Nebraska open records law also allows “records developed or received by law enforcement agencies and other public bodies charged with duties of investigation” to be exempted from public searches, Bush said.

Brian Brislen, the university’s attorney, said the university’s blanket denials went too far.

“We’re only here as a second step, because in our view, the university didn’t appropriately exercise its redaction capabilities,” Brislen said.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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