“Jane Doe” Seeks Court Seal, Closed Hearing On Wendt Documents

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Matthew Wendt

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — The lawyer for a woman who accused the former Fayetteville School District superintendent of sexual harassment and later sued the district to keep her personnel records private has asked a judge to close a hearing on the matter from the public.

Suzanne Clark, lawyer for “Jane Doe,” filed a motion Tuesday (July 24) in Washington County Circuit Court asking for permission to submit the documents under seal and close the hearing so the records can be openly discussed in court.

Clark argued in the motion that without an order sealing the records, “any records provided or arguments made to the court would be a matter of public record, which would effectively nullify any opportunity to protect” her client’s privacy.

The district, however, argued in a response filed Wednesday (July 26) that closing the hearing is “inappropriate and unnecessary.”

“(The district) contends that counsel for the parties should discuss the records and make any legal arguments in an open hearing and that they can do so while still maintaining plaintiff’s privacy.”

The district believes the documents are releasable under the state Freedom Of Information Act. Earlier this week it asked a judge to settle the matter.

Clark first filed a complaint July 11 arguing that her client’s privacy is threatened if the district releases records from its investigation into former superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt.

“The records … contain graphic text messages that are exceptionally personal in nature,” Clark wrote in the complaint.

“Such information would subject the plaintiff and her family to embarrassment, harassment, and could impact her employment and relationships with friends.”

The woman accused him of sexual harassment in March and later provided sexually suggestive text messages and voice recordings — allegedly from Wendt — as evidence.

The school board fired Wendt in June.

After receiving several FOIA requests regarding its investigation, the district determined the woman’s personnel file was a “job performance record” and therefore releasable, according to Clark’s complaint.

The woman asked for an opinion from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who later affirmed the district’s decision to disclose the records.

However, Rutledge noted that the woman’s “name should be redacted as a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The district then asked a judge to weigh in because it felt “caught in the middle.”.

“Thus, (the district) respectfully request that the court expeditiously review the documents at issue and make a determination as to whether the records at issue may be released,” the district wrote in its response.

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