In A Flash

Judge rules against LSU student journalist seeking Greek Life investigation records 

By: - February 23, 2023 4:27 pm
Alena Allen

Alena Allen is the incoming dean for the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center. (Photo courtesy of LSU)

A Louisiana district judge has ruled against the editor of LSU’s student-run newspaper in its attempt to unearth investigative records about a former Greek Life administrator accused of catfishing students. 

The university investigated the administrator, Donald Abels, on allegations that he created multiple Snapchat accounts with false personas to entrap fraternity recruits in violations of university policy and state law on underage drinking. 

Josh Archote, editor of The Reveille, requested the records in September and was swiftly denied by the university. The Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic, which also provides legal guidance to the Illuminator, filed suit on Archote’s behalf in January. 

Judge Kelly Balfour of the 19th Judicial District Court ruled that because Archote was seeking records similar to those sought in a 2021 court case, McMakin v. LSU, in which the court denied the plaintiff access to those records, there was sufficient precedent  to deny Archote’s request. 

While Archote contends his request was broader, Christen Triche, an attorney representing LSU President William Tate, the university’s records custodian, argued the university believes the records sought are identical. 

Virginia Hamrick, an attorney with the Tulane First Amendment Center representing Archote, argued that subsequent denials of record requests that have already been subject of litigation erodes the public’s right to access public information. 

“If someone brought a lawsuit for a public records request, and it was argued, it was litigated, and then someone else wanted those records, even if they hadn’t made a public records request, they would forfeit the rights under the public records law to seek those records,” Hamrick told the judge. “That’s a harsh remedy for the public and depriving them of their constitutional right to access.” 

In a statement to the Illuminator, Archote expressed disappointment in the decision. 

“If the ruling stands, it will offer greater opportunities for state institutions to shield themselves from public access to their records, which means less transparency and accountability,” Archote said. 

Katie Schwartzmann, director of the Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic, said that her team is weighing an appeal of the decision. 

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.