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Florida cites student privacy laws in refusal to release attorney contract

Published Aug. 8, 2016

The University of Florida is refusing to release any possible contracts related to an outside Title IX hearing officer, citing student privacy records that one outside expert said should not apply.

The Tampa Bay Times has requested a copy of UF's contract with Jake Schickel, a Jacksonville attorney assigned to rule on the sexual assault investigation into star receiver Antonio Callaway. The complainant's attorney, John Clune, questioned whether Schickel has a conflict of interest in the case because he is also a football booster.

UF spokesperson Janine Sikes said via email that if UF "had a contract of that nature," disclosing it would violate student privacy laws because it could "disclose confidential information related to student conduct matters or the existence of a student conduct matter."

"Well that's baloney," said Barbara Petersen, an open-records advocate and the president of the First Amendment Foundation.

Petersen said student privacy laws are designed to protect academic records, not business contracts with outside professionals. If students' information is in the contract, Petersen said, the university could redact their names as allowed by law and backed up by a 2010 Florida Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA and Florida State.

"Contracts are pretty much a boilerplate, and to say that all of the information in the contract would expose student conduct is baloney," Petersen said.

FSU similarly used a third-party hearing officer in December 2014 for the Jameis Winston case. FSU provided a copy of that contract to the Times a few hours after its request.

Sikes directed further questions about UF's decision to the school's general counsel, which did not return a phone message left by a Times attorney.