Lawyers appeal to have papers released

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State cannot use a law firm as a go-between to keep documents on an academic cheating scandal secret, media lawyers wrote Monday in an appeal to have the papers released publicly.

An appellate court in 1990 ruled against a similar move by St. Petersburg and the Chicago White Sox to hide an agreement for moving the team to Florida, lawyers said in court papers.

The argument is over documents on the school's appeal of an NCAA plan to remove wins from the individual records of coaches and athletes in 10 sports regardless of whether they were involved in the cheating.

The NCAA sent the information electronically to law firm GrayRobinson rather than to Florida State. The media motion argues they became public records when GrayRobinson received them on behalf of the school. They also argue the agreement between Florida State and GrayRobinson to keep them confidential is illegal. GrayRobinson and the NCAA earlier asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The records relate to the official business of FSU in connection with educating students and running a student athletic program," the media lawyers wrote. "Consequently, the records then meet the definition of 'public records."

Longtime football coach Bobby Bowden stands to lose 14 victories that would make it difficult for him to overtake Penn State's Joe Paterno in their race to be major college football's winningest coach. Paterno holds that title with 383 victories, just one more than Bowden.

The law firm contends the NCAA alone has custody of the records because they were placed on a Web site that can be viewed with a secret password but not downloaded. The media lawyers contend GreyRobinson has the password and ability to provide public access to the site, making it possible to capture screen shots of the documents.

Circuit Judge John C. Cooper on Thursday will consider motions in the lawsuit filed by The Associated Press and other media against the NCAA, Florida State and the law firm.

The media lawyers referred to the White Sox case in their written response to the GrayRobinson motion to dismiss.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal found the baseball team and St. Petersburg had violated Florida's public records law by keeping documents out of the city's physical possession. St. Petersburg's lawyers and managers, instead, could review the papers at the office of a local law firm hired by the White Sox. The deal fell through when Illinois agreed to finance a new stadium in Chicago.