HELENA, Mont. ― State education officials must disclose the disciplinary records of a former quarterback accused of rape for the public to understand what the University of Montana is doing to protect students from sexual assault, the attorney for Into the Wild author Jon Krakauer said in court filings.
Attorney Mike Meloy urged the Montana Supreme Court to uphold District Judge Kathy Seeley’s ruling that Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian must release records of any actions he took in the case against Jordan Johnson.
Reversing Seeley’s decision “will only endorse efforts to keep secret the university’s treatment of sexual assaults among students,” Meloy wrote in Monday’s filing.
State attorneys representing Christian are appealing the district judge’s decision, arguing that releasing educational records without a student’s consent could threaten Montana’s federal education funding.
Johnson, who graduated last year, was accused of raping a female student in 2012. Before he was acquitted in state court, a university court recommended expulsion of an unnamed student ― later identified as Johnson ― after concluding the rape had occurred.
The accused student appealed the university court’s decision to Christian. Johnson was not expelled, and Krakauer is seeking records to determine whether Christian took any action to reverse the university court’s decision.
Krakauer sought the information for a book published last year called “Missoula” about sexual assaults on college campuses.
Seeley ordered the release of the records, saying that the state’s federal education funding would not be jeopardized for a one-time release under a court ruling in which the student’s name was blacked out of any documents.
Meloy, Krakauer’s attorney, said there is no evidence that shows the U.S. Department of education ever threatened the university’s funding. The federal law allows for instances of disclosure, and the open-records provisions in Montana’s Constitution should not be made meaningless by a federal spending law, Meloy argued.
Johnson also gave up his expectation of privacy when he agreed to the university’s student-athlete code of conduct, which says players should conduct themselves with the knowledge that they could lose some individual right and privileges because of heightened public scrutiny, Meloy wrote.
Krakauer’s lawsuit has drawn national attention, with four media advocacy groups filing a friend-of-the-brief court urging the state Supreme Court to uphold the order to release the records.
It is uncertain when the Supreme Court will rule on the case, or if it will schedule oral arguments.