OSU student newspaper wants details of Vernand Morency lawsuit

Thursday, November 18th 2004, 6:42 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma State University's student-run newspaper is seeking details about a lawsuit that OSU tailback Vernand Morency filed last year to remain in school.

The lawsuit was dismissed in September and sealed by District Judge Donald Worthington. But Worthington ordered attorneys for Morency and the university to discuss what records can be released after an attorney for The O'Collegian Publishing Co. asked that they be unsealed.

Morency's lawsuit named Lee Bird, OSU vice president of student affairs, and Peg Vitek, who heads the school's student conduct office.

``We felt because it involved two university officials at a state university, it'd be important to find out why they were sued,'' said Sean Hill, senior editor of The O'Collegian.

``And we thought it'd be important to find out why someone sued the university to maintain their status as a student,'' Hill said.

Oklahoma City media attorney Robert Nelon is representing The Daily O'Collegian, which is supported by advertising dollars and student fees, for free, Hill said.

The newspaper challenged sealing of all the court records by arguing that both the state Supreme Court and state Court of Criminal Appeals have ruled that wholesale sealing of records isn't needed ``to protect even interests of the highest order.''

Sealing the records violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the state Open Records Act and common law right of public access, according to the newspaper's court filings.

Worthington ordered the attorneys not to release any documents without court approval, court documents show. All are scheduled to appear in court Dec. 2.

Enid attorney Stephen Jones, who's representing Morency, opposes releasing any records because they include health records, along with academic and disciplinary student records.

University attorneys did not return calls from The Oklahoman on Wednesday afternoon.

Included in Morency's response to the newspaper's request is court authorization to question Hill and Vitek. Jones thinks Vitek tipped off Hill about the lawsuit and provided information that would put her in contempt of court.

``I think we know who tipped the O'Colly off, and we're prepared to investigate that,'' he said.

Jones said he also wants to question the newspaper's faculty adviser. The attorney said he isn't concerned about any roadblocks from state journalism shield laws.

``Journalism shield laws have more holes in them than Swiss cheese,'' he said.