Star Tribune goes through state to access withheld U sexual misconduct reports

Sarah McKenzie

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is seeking an advisory opinion from a state oversight agency in an attempt to gain access to redacted portions of the men’s athletics sexual misconduct investigative report.
The newspaper is primarily seeking more specific details of the alleged incidents, including the names of coaches and athletes involved.
Eric Jorstad, an attorney representing the newspaper, filed the request with the state Department of Administration on Thursday.
The agency is authorized to give a written opinion on any question relating to public access to government data, according to a state statute.
The newspaper’s request comes two weeks after the University released the report’s findings, which were requested by University President Mark Yudof in May.
A number of pages in the public version of the 110-page sexual misconduct report were blank or redacted.
In the request, Jorstad wrote, “We believe the University has improperly withheld public data by overbroad redactions from the report. We cannot specify or prove the improper redactions because of the very nature of the University’s action,” the request stated. “Moreover, the University has provided extremely sketchy information concerning what was redacted and why.”
Jorstad followed that statement with a four-page analysis of the state’s Data Practices Act, arguing the University has an obligation to release the sexual misconduct report in “its entirety except for very limited redactions.”
In the July 6 report, investigators determined athletic officials were involved in at least 12 sexual misconduct investigations involving student-athletes since 1993, but failed to find systematic interference.
However, investigators did find “a pattern of favoritism” among athletic officials toward student-athletes accused of sexual misconduct and a “lack of sensitivity to the interests of victims.”
Jorstad said Friday that the University should identify all individuals involved with the exception of the alleged victims since the criminal investigations are no longer active.
“The fact that the alleged perpetrator is an athlete, even a very well known athlete, has no bearing on public access to law enforcement data under the Data Practices Act,” Jorstad wrote in the memorandum.
In concluding remarks, he asked the agency to declare the University in violation of state law for releasing the report “with unwarranted redactions of public data.” A request for full disclosure is also reiterated.
University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg could not be interviewed Friday about the newspaper’s request, but he reportedly said the University has tried to follow state law while also balancing the privacy rights of students and University employees.
Scott Simmons, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administration, said the agency has 50 days to respond to the Star Tribune’s request. The University also has an opportunity to respond.
The advisory opinion has no real legal weight, Simmons said. But in some cases, the University can avoid potential liability if officials decide to follow the agency’s advice.
Jorstad said the newspaper has made requests with the department before, largely because it is a less costly and time-intensive process than litigation. The agency’s opinions are often favorable to the newspaper but do not always result in a release of information.