ANNAPOLIS – The state’s highest court Tuesday upheld a lower court order forcing the University of Maryland to release records of campus parking violations racked up by its 1995-96 men’s basketball team and coach.
A student newspaper, The Diamondback, had sought the records after the NCAA in February 1996 briefly suspended player Duane Simpkins for accepting a loan from a former coach to help pay $8,242 in campus parking fines.
The newspaper requested the records to aid its investigation into allegations that some members of that team had been parking illegally on campus and had received preferential treatment on fines imposed, court records show.
University lawyers argued that parking information – and correspondence between the university and the NCAA – was protected from disclosure by state personnel laws and federal student privacy laws.
The Maryland Court of Appeals disagreed. Records of debt in the state are often protected from disclosure, but fines are not. Tickets are fines, the court ruled.
Parking tickets are not part of a student’s educational record and so are not protected by federal law, the court ruled.
“The federal statute was obviously intended to keep private those aspects of a student’s educational life that relate to academic matters or status as a student,” Judge John C. Eldridge wrote in the unanimous opinion of the court.
Elizabeth Koch, a lawyer for the student newspaper, said she was “very happy” with the ruling. “We deserve this information,” she said.
“We’re disappointed, of course,” said Terry Roach, chief counsel at the university.
University spokesman George Cathcart said the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education interpret the student privacy law more broadly than the state.
This case, Roach agreed, “reflects an interesting intersection between the state and federal interpretations of the law. That’s going to be a difficult one to sort out.”
If Tuesday’s court ruling goes unchallenged, the university would be required to surrender records of parking violations by the players and coach Gary Williams between May 1992 and February 1996, along with correspondence between the university and the NCAA between Feb. 1-21, 1996.
An editor at The Diamondback said the newspaper would likely use this decision as a wedge to get more information. Managing Editor Daryl Khan said editors expect to send a letter to the university requesting records on more recent parking ticket violations involving the basketball team. “Was there an immediate drop-off [in violations] after the lawsuit?” Khan said the newspaper wants to find out.
But those familiar with the case said more legal wrangling may be ahead.
“There’s a similar case at the University of Miami in Ohio where the Department of Education intervened to prevent them from releasing the record,” said Assistant Attorney General Dawna Cobb, the basketball team’s lead lawyer.
But U.S. Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the agency has made no plans concerning this case. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the ruling, and won’t have much to say until we do,” he said. -30-