WHEELING – West Virginia University's board of governors convinced U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp to start wrapping secrecy around a degree the school awarded to Heather Bresch, daughter of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
On Aug. 16, Stamp extended a temporary seal of affidavits and exhibits that former business school dean Stephen Sears and former associate dean Cyril Logar filed.
The West Virginia Record published excerpts of the affidavits before Stamp sealed them.
He set an Aug. 26 deadline for the parties to propose a joint order on confidentiality. He wrote that if they can't agree on an order, each side can propose one by Sept. 2.
He wrote that if they propose separate orders, they can seal them.
Compromise may not come readily, for Sears and Logar opposed confidentiality in an Aug. 15 brief that Logar's lawyer, Robert Ridge of Pittsburgh, filed for both.
"This lawsuit involves allegations of constitutional violations against a public university and some of that university's current or former employees," he wrote. "The university used public funds to carry out the investigations and proceedings that are at issue in this case.
"The university is using public funds to defend this lawsuit, and details about this matter and a similar case filed by former provost Gerald Lang are in the public domain, appearing in the media daily."
He wrote that the university posted most of the information on its web page, leaving no privacy interests to protect.
"Plaintiffs have already suffered harm as a result of the publicity surrounding the multiple investigations that led to this lawsuit," he wrote. "Plaintiffs should now have the opportunity for their side of the story to be heard."
They claim conflicts of interest stained an investigation of charges that they improperly awarded Bresch a master's degree in business administration.
They claim they acted on advice of former university counsel Alex Macia.
They sued the board of governors, former president Michael Garrison, former interim president Peter McGrath and five others last year.
Sears and Logar aim to prevent the school from resuming the investigation, which Lang had stopped with a separate suit in Monongalia County.
Lang dropped his suit in July, after the school agreed to file no charges against him.
On July 28, Stamp asked Sears, Logar and the school for affidavits to help him decide whether a two year statute of limitations ran out on the claims.
He received affidavits and exhibits on Aug. 10, and posted them on the public docket.
On Aug. 11, the Board of Governors moved to seal the exhibits.
"The academic integrity proceedings at issue in this action have not come to any final resolution," wrote Wendy Adkins, of Jackson Kelly in Morgantown.
"Release of information concerning the academic integrity materials in this lawsuit may compromise the numerous protections provided by the academic integrity policy for a confidential and neutral process to not only plaintiffs, but also others subject to the same academic integrity proceedings but are not parties to this suit."
Stamp temporarily sealed the documents that day, and he extended the seal at the hearing.
Logar remains at the university, but not as associate dean.
Sears departed, and court records locate him in Texas.
John Tinney and John Tinney Jr. of Charleston represent Sears.