While Concerns Mount Over Budget Cuts, Southern Loses Public Records Lawsuit

In a letter to lawmakers, Southern University System Presiden Ray Belton requested expediency in deciding appropriations for the 2018-19 budget year; just days before a state judge ordered the university to pay $13,000 to media organizations for refusing to release public records in connection to a potential fraud case.

The Advocate reports on the letter to legislators, which asks them to consider students, faculty and administrators’ livelihoods in determining its approach to managing an estimated $1 billion funding deficit for higher education.

“It is critical that funding decisions for the upcoming fiscal year be made as soon as possible so that the families we serve can make appropriate plans, and university administrators can do the same. This not only includes academic plans, and livelihoods, but also efficient and effective operations,” Dr. Belton wrote.

In 2016, Dr. Belton had to clarify statements about the prospect of budget cuts potentially closing the school.

The Advocate also reports on Southern’s legal loss to the newspaper and local television outlet WBRZ, which last year accused Southern of withholding documents on Elder Law Clinic Director Dorothy Jackson.

Jackson was accused of drafting a will for a Law Center client which left an executive with the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging as the executor of the client’s estate upon her death.

On the day of the trial in August, Jackson’s attorney waived any privacy rights and said they wanted the reports from Southern to be made public. Southern then agreed to release them without a full trial, and the news organizations received the reports.

Though Kelley said at the time that The Advocate and WBRZ would receive attorney fees, Southern challenged the request for them. Attorneys W. Scott Keaty and Joshua McDiarmid, representing the news organizations, said their work on the case cost $12,075 plus $1,066 in court costs.

In August, Jackson made headlines for seeking $10,000 in service fees from the family which drafted the will that was eventually struck down by a state judge.