2nd District Judge John Stegner has ordered the personnel records of former UI Professor Ernesto Bustamante released, in a court case in which the University of Idaho and media organizations from across the state appealed to the court to see if privacy protections for state personnel records persist after the employee is dead; Bustamante shot himself to death after police say he fatally shot UI student Katy Benoit outside her Moscow home. “This provides us with what we sought: a clear path forward,” University of Idaho general counsel Kent Nelson said in a statement. “It has always been the university's intention to be as open and transparent as the law allows in this matter.” Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune and the Associated Press.
Judge Stegner, ruling from the bench, held that the definition of “former official” does include one who is dead, but then applied a balancing test and ordered disclosure of the records, determining that the public's right to know outweighed the privacy right of the “former official.” The UI doesn't plan to appeal the ruling, which sets precedent for such cases in the future.
Idaho judge orders release of professor's records
MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — A judge has ruled the University of Idaho should release the personnel records of a former professor who police say killed a 22-year-old graduate student and then committed suicide after their relationship ended.
The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/nZ8xCn ) 2nd District Judge John R. Stegner ordered the records of Ernesto Bustamante released on Monday.
In his ruling, Stegner decided the mandatory confidentiality of public employee personnel records ends with the death of the individual.
Bustamante resigned from the university three days before police say he shot Katy Benoit nearly a dozen times outside her Moscow home on Aug. 22 and then committed suicide in a hotel room.
Attorneys for the University of Idaho and several media outlets petitioned the court to rule that the former professor's records were a matter of public record.
The university said it was discussing a timeline to release public material with lawyers for the media outlets that include The Associated Press, Idaho newspapers and the Idaho Press Club.
“This provides us with what we sought: a clear path forward,” University of Idaho general counsel Kent Nelson said in a statement. “It has always been the university's intention to be as open and transparent as the law allows in this matter.”
Nelson added that the university is currently complying with a search warrant from the district court as the law enforcement investigation into the deaths continues. Under the warrant, the institution is gathering and turning over university documents related to Bustamante and Benoit.
As the university makes this material available to law enforcement officials, it said it is also making copies of the records in response to public records requests from media outlets.
The records including emails number “in the tens of thousands,” Nelson said.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com