During Friday’s meeting of the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees, the trustees authorized UW General Counsel Tara Evans to “proceed with the necessary legal proceedings, including filing of any notice of appeal” regarding the Jan. 3 ruling from Albany County district court Judge Tori Kricken, who ordered the university to publicly release numerous records related to the departure of former UW President Laurie Nichols.
Chris Boswell, interim vice president for community affairs, told the Laramie Boomerang in a Friday email that the trustees’ “verbiage does not indicate a formal trustee decision on whether or not to appeal.”
“It should be considered an action preserving the right to appeal,” he said, adding that trustees will make a final decision before an appeal is filed.
The proposed action was not listed on the trustees agenda and came after an executive session Friday morning that lasted twice as long as scheduled.
Immediately after Kricken made her decision this month, UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told the Boomerang that UW plans to appeal. The university was given 30 days from Jan. 3 to file a notice of appeal.
Kircken’s ruling came after several news organizations, including the Laramie Boomerang, the Casper Star-Tribune and Wyofile, asked the judge to review the legality of UW’s decision not to provide the news organizations with numerous records related to Nichols’s departure.
If upheld by the Wyoming Supreme Court, Kricken’s ruling could give the public a glimpse into the reasons the university’s board of trustees opted not to renew Nichols’s contract after negotiating one in 2019.
The records UW’s been ordered to release include emails among trustees regarding a drafted contract extension for Nichols and investigatory materials concerning the ex-president.
After UW announced in March that Nichols would not return as president for the 2019-2020 academic year, Star-Tribune reporter Seth Klamann started requesting numerous records related to Nichols’s outing, beginning with a March 28 request for emails including the board of trustees’s four most powerful members that included the keywords “Nichols, Laurie, president, seep, scrape, renewal, evaluation, Steve Portch, Portch.” Portch had conducted Nichols’s performance review in 2017.
UW’s attorneys found 2,235 emails related to that search, and released just 157 pages of which to the Star-Tribune.
The university had argued the rest of the emails were not public records as defined by Wyoming law.
Kricken also ruled that UW’s invocation of attorney-client privilege was an inappropriate reason for the university to not provide copies of emails that involved UW’s general counsel. The judge will, however, allow the university to withhold a few requested emails that Kricken ruled are, in fact, eligible for attorney-client privilege to be invoked.
For the emails that UW doesn’t need to release because Kricken determined attorney-client privilege applies, the university will still need to provide news organizations with a “privilege log” for those withheld records.
A privilege log is a list of individual records that attorneys are having withheld, including the grounds for which each record is being withheld.
UW provided a privilege log to the news organizations Jan. 13. The records that UW is allowed to withhold include emails from Evans to the trustees’s chairman, Dave True, in which she was “responding to questions regarding executive sessions of the board.” Those emails were sent March 6, 2019, and March 7, 2019 — a little more than a week before Nichols was told her presidency was coming to an end.
Other records UW is allowed to withhold include February 2019 notes from UW’s former human resources director, Jeanne Durr, which contain legal advice Evans provided during phone calls.