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Court Rules: Notre Dame Police Reports Can Remain Secret

The Indiana Supreme Court says the University of Notre Dame can keep campus police reports secret.

The ruling Wednesday came in a lawsuit filed by ESPN seeking records about alleged crimes by student-athletes from the campus police department. The justices ruled that when the suit was filed, under Indiana's Access to Public Records Act, Notre Dame police weren't considered public officials -- that they answered to the school's trustees, not the state, in enforcing the criminal code.

"We acknowledge the importance of an open government, as well as the broad access granted to government records by APRA," the court wrote in its opinion. "However, the job of this Court is to interpret, not legislate, the statutes before it."

A University of Notre Dame spokesperson says the school is pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling and adds that the university follows federal requirements on disclosing campus crimes

ESPN says it's "extremely disappointed by the ruling and what it represents for public transparency."

State public access counselor Luke Britt disagrees with the ruling.

"They are exercising a government function, and normally when that happens, they will be considered a state actor for the purposes of other types of oversight considerations," Britt says.

But he says private school police forces are now defined as public agencies, under a state law that took effect in July. That new law doesn't apply to old arrest or investigation records -- including the ones ESPN wanted. But Britt says it will apply to any private university police records from July onward.

The decision reverses a lower court ruling that the Notre Dame police department should be subject to public access laws because it has legal authority from the state to make arrests and has jurisdiction beyond the university's campus.

An ESPN attorney argued the abilities of university police to arrest and apprehend are "the core powers of the state." ESPN is one of several media outlets that had unsuccessfully requested police reports from the private university.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a friend of the court brief siding with ESPN in the case.

“The state’s policy is that the authority granted to a police officer is really at the heart of public trust,” Zoeller wrote. “So we need transparency and openness when it comes to the use of that police power, whether it’s a private use which we’ve granted to Notre Dame and other private institutions, or whether it’s the police you see every day on the streets.”

Notre Dame says it's a private institution without government functions.

Barbara Brosher and Annie Ropeik contributed to this report. 

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