UW spent $42,000 in effort to block release of Nichols documents
The University of Wyoming paid its attorneys more than $42,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to block the release of records.
February 13, 2020
The University of Wyoming paid its attorneys more than $42,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to block the release of records outlining the board of trustees’ investigation and decision to part ways with former president Laurie Nichols, records released last week show.
The university spent $42,532.61 between July and December to fight a lawsuit brought by WyoFile, the Star-Tribune, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and the Laramie Boomerang. The organizations had jointly sued the school in June, after UW blocked the release of records that detailed the end of Nichols’ tenure and the board’s decision making. A judge ruled in favor of the news outlets in early January and said that the records could be released, albeit with redactions.
The cost of the school’s defense was released late last week in response to another records request by WyoFile and the Star-Tribune. The released invoices show that Hirst Applegate, the Cheyenne-based law firm hired by the board to defend it against the media, billed UW six times in the latter half of 2019. All but one of those invoices was for $7,000 or more.
A voicemail left for Dave True, the board chairman, was not returned. Various faculty and department leaders around campus declined to comment or did not return messages. Donal O’Toole, who was the Faculty Senate chair when Nichols was dismissed, called the expense “a stupid waste of money.” The expense is more than double what a Wyoming resident pays in tuition each year.
At the Capitol, where a legislative budget session is underway, one lawmaker questioned the expenditure.
“I hope they feel they got what they paid for,” said Sen. Mike Gierau, a Jackson Democrat who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, “because as someone who appropriates money to the University of Wyoming, I just don’t see it.”
In a statement, university spokesman Chad Baldwin said the board’s “paramount concern” in defending the media’s lawsuit was “safeguarding the confidentiality of those individuals whose comments were factored into the decision” to not renew Nichols’ contract.
“Those individuals were offered assurances of confidentiality in exchange for their willingness to be interviewed, and the board felt it had a responsibility to seek to maintain the privacy of those numerous individuals prior to and after the lawsuit was filed,” Baldwin wrote. “In that very important respect, the university is pleased with the outcome of the litigation and grateful that Judge (Tori) Kricken ordered the redaction of those names in the documents that were released.”