On Wednesday, Ole Miss released Hugh Freeze’s phone records.
Yes, all of them.
The ones that Houston Nutt attorney Thomas Mars was looking for.
Except for the fact that they didn’t really release Freeze’s phone records.
I’m sure you’re asking “But Gary… if the media has the records, then they released them. Right?”
Well, not completely.
David Brandt, Mississippi AP sports reporter, stated on Aug. 17th’s Oxford Exxon Podcast (with Chase Parham & Neal McCready) that he had received the records. Said it was about 698 pages long, around 33,000 phone calls, and about 5% of it was redacted.
I want to focus on all of this, but that “redacted” part is what grabbed me.
These requests have been in for a while. Let’s go ahead and ask the biggest question:
If Freeze’s phone was paid for by a private institution, therefore not subject to FOIA requests, then why release the records?
Remember, at first, they released a small batch of Freeze’s phone records to Thomas Mars.
That led to finding the escort call, which ended in Hugh Freeze resigning from Ole Miss (with no buyout).
Thomas Mars then requested all of Hugh Freeze’s phone records, dating back to 2012.
Ole Miss countered and told him it would cost $25K to produce those records. They claimed that was a large amount of records (it is), and they would have to hire outside counsel to go through and help redact personal calls.
Mars then countered on them and explained that he would not pay that because, according to the FOIA, they could not redact calls from a state phone.
Ole Miss then responded and told Mars that they’re not producing the records because it was not a state issued phone – that football employees phones are paid for by the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation, which is a private institution.
Now, after the big question, since Ole Miss went ahead and released the redacted records to the media, here are the 2 things that will come out of it, because nobody will find anything in these records, since they were released.
- If there’s nothing to hide in the phone records, what was the exact reason Hugh Freeze was asked to resign?
- If there’s nothing to hide in the phone records, why did you allow Freeze to redact the calls?
Freeze has had ample time to redact anything that might be incriminating, and can claim the calls were “personal.”
Basically, Freeze and/or Ole Miss, can still hide anything that they want to.
I reached out to Mars this morning to get his thoughts on this, and he was kind enough to provide me a statement regarding this.
THOMAS MARS STATEMENT ON RELEASE OF FREEZE PHONE RECORDS
The University’s outside counsel sent me the redacted phone logs of Hugh Freeze’s calls late Wednesday afternoon, subject to the formal objection I had registered to their secretive, unverifiable decision-making process for redacting certain phone numbers.
On August 11, I sent an e-mail to the University’s outside lawyers and offered the following solution to avoid litigation over how Ole Miss has handled our FOIA requests for these records:
- OM explains in writing the specific process OM is using to identify phone numbers that OM considers “personal calls,” confirms whether it intends to redact calls that had a dual purpose (business and personal) and how OM will identify such dual purpose calls, and discloses whether the process currently being used to justify the redaction of certain phone calls is subject to oversight and verification by an independent third-party.
- OM stipulates that any phone calls to or from a person associated with a media organization will not be treated as “personal calls” under any circumstances and will not be subject to redaction.
- OM agrees to pay for an independent third party not associated with the University and selected by mutual agreement to: (a) verify that the process used to identify calls that were “personal” in nature is both reasonable and valid and (b) provide independent oversight of the process and verification that the process meets the agreed upon standards for identifying and redacting only “personal” calls. The third party selected for this role would have full access to the unredacted phone records subject to that person executing an appropriate NDA.
On August 14, I received an e-mail from the University’s outside lawyers with the following response to my proposal.
“The University will not comply with your other demands, none of which are required under the Act or any judicial or administrative opinion of which I am aware. The University continues to process your request and looks forward to producing responsive documents in a timely manner.”
The proposal we made to avoid yet another lawsuit related to Hugh Freeze’s conduct was both logical and reasonable. As I’ve said before, we’re not looking for calls to hookers, and our proposal would have allowed Ole Miss to redact those calls. So, based on what we proposed and they rejected, there’s clearly something else Ole Miss doesn’t want us to find in Hugh Freeze’s phone records. There’s more than one way to skin this cat, so whatever it is they’re hiding, we’ll probably find it eventually.
I might make one other observation about what’s going on here. Time after time, history has shown that a “cover up” usually has consequences that are far worse than whatever consequences would have resulted from the underlying offense. But in the immortal words of Winston Churchill, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”