Louisiana State University Student Lawsuit Proceeds

By on July 3, 2008

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) reported this week on the ongoing lawsuit of Patrick Esfeller against Louisiana State University (LSU) for violating Esfeller’s free speech and due process rights. After his ex-girlfriend accused him of harassment, Esfeller was notified in November 2006 that he faced various vague charges including "Extreme, outrageous or persistent acts, or communications that are intended or reasonably likely to harass, intimidate, harm, or humiliate another."

According to the lawsuit, as reported by SPLC, "the investigating authorities failed to interview any of Esfeller’s witnesses before proposing sanctions." Esfeller then suffered from a variety of additional apparent due process violations by LSU, which FIRE outlined in a letter to LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe on October 11, 2007.

An additional violation by LSU in Esfeller’s case occurred in January 2007 after the student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, secured permission from Esfeller to access his disciplinary records and the newspaper’s request was denied by Associate Dean of Students and Director of Judicial Affairs Eric Norman. In a letter to Esfeller in January 2007, Norman attempted to keep the materials in Esfeller’s file out of public view by threatening him with additional charges:

The attempt to make public this information could be interpreted as "an attempt to intimidate, harass, or unduly influence a potential witness, complainant, hearing panel member, or university administrator", which is a violation of the Code of Student Conduct 5.2.B.18. As such, any attempt to make this matter public may result in additional charges.

FIRE never received a substantial response to our letter. Then, after all of Esfeller’s LSU appeals failed, he sued LSU on January 31, 2008, for, among other things, violations of his speech and due process rights.

The speech and due process elements of the case survived a motion to dismiss (see this ruling of May 30, 2008, for a good outline of the case).

Meanwhile, Norman reportedly has been trying to limit student rights through revisions to the LSU Code of Student Conduct. (See, for instance, this liveblog of the April 16, 2008, meeting of the LSU Student Senate.) More on this and on Esfeller’s case is to come.