Lawsuit Claims University Of Arkansas Broke Public Records Laws

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A Fayetteville law firm filed a lawsuit Friday against the University of Arkansas, alleging the school failed to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests made by a local person named Wade Cash.

Taylor Law Partners filed the suit in Washington County Circuit Court. The complaint states Cash in January 2013 requested various cell phone text messages and email records related to two university employees.

UA General Counsel Scott Varady responded by email to Cash’s request by citing state law, saying the request was too vague and “would potentially require dozens, if not hundreds of hours of unnecessary review to sort through records that may not constitute ‘public records’ within the meaning of the law.”

The UA’s lawyer went on to call Cash’s request “invalid” in a later email. The lawsuit disagrees, stating the university’s failure to fulfill the request is against the law. It asks that the court compel the university to release the requested records and pay for any attorney and court costs.

Cash had requested cell phone records and text messages belonging to Brian Haggard and Leslie Massey from Jan. 1, 2012, to present day. He also requested “all incoming and outgoing email correspondence” related to the two employees’ email addresses “from Jan. 1, 2008, to the present,” according to Cash’s public records request.

Haggard is listed in the UA directory as the director of the university’s Water Resources Center, while Massey is listed as an engineering instructor.

An online search of Cash’s name showed a research specialist with the university’s Water Resources Center is named “Wade Cash.”

The university’s counsel said in an email to Cash that his request did not follow state law on public records requests.

“As you may know, the law requires that a ‘request shall be sufficiently specific to enable the custodian to locate the records with reasonable effort,” the email from Varady states.

Cash countered by saying the documents he was requesting could be downloaded easily and would not require excessive manpower. Cash and Varady continued to trade emails on the subject for the following few months.

Varady gave Wade about 2,500 pages of documents in March related to Wade’s request, but the lawsuit notes, “(I)t was not the requested information, but rather it was only emails from the addresses and which contained the word “Wade,” and possibly not all of those emails.

Those email addresses belong to Haggard and Massey.

Wade complained to Varady after the documents were handed over that his public records request still had not been fulfilled. The school’s lawyer replied in an email, “You continue to ignore this requirement of the law, and your request is invalid. The wording of the request is not ‘sufficiently specific’ as required under Arkansas law. Therefore, the request is invalid.”

The lawsuit goes on to state the university employees’ whose records were being requested were allowed to excessively redact their own emails before turning them over.

No additional documents have been released by the university in the case, and Cash has been charged $119.75 for copies, the suit states.

Mark Rushing, university spokesman, told 5NEWS on Friday that the UA has a policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.