University of Wyoming spent $42,000 fighting records lawsuit


CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – The University of Wyoming paid attorneys more than $42,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to block the release of records involving a decision not to renew the contract of the school's president.

A judge in January ordered the release of records involving President Laurie Nichols to four news outlets.

Donal O’Toole, who was Faculty Senate chair when Nichols was dismissed, called the legal expense “a stupid waste of money.”

The records showed university officials investigated interactions between Nichols and employees, leading to a decision by trustees not to renew her contract last summer. Nichols is now president of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.

Released invoices show that Hirst Applegate, a Cheyenne-based law firm hired by the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees to defend it against the media requests, billed the university six times in the latter half of 2019. All but one of those invoices were for $7,000 or more, according to two of the news outlets that sued, the Casper Star-Tribune and WyoFile.

A voicemail left for board Chairman Dave True was not returned.

The board’s top concern in defending against the lawsuit was “safeguarding the confidentiality of those individuals whose comments were factored into the decision” to not renew Nichols’ contract, university spokesman Chad Baldwin said in a statement.

“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.

The university could’ve redacted the documents if protecting identities was all the university was concerned about, said Bruce Moats, the attorney who represented the news outlets.

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