NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Supreme Court will issue a decision on whether text messages, emails and video shot by surveillance cameras in a Vanderbilt University dorm during the time of the 2013 rape of female student are public record.
A number of news organizations, including The Tennessean, filed suit asking for access to the materials.
During a 90-minute hearing at Lipscomb University Thursday, attorneys representing news organizations argued that text messages between Vanderbilt coaches and students, as well as emails and video shot by surveillance cameras inside a dorm, should be released under Tennessee’s public record laws.
The news organizations argued the material was collected as part of the investigation into the incident. They have so far been denied access by an appellate judge.
“What we are saying is third party materials fall outside of the scope of Rule 16(a)2,” Attorney for the media Robb Harvey said. “We would ask they be turned over now.”
The rule states:
“Except as provided in paragraphs (A), (B), (E), and (G) of subdivision (a)(1), this rule does not authorize the discovery or inspection of reports, memoranda, or other internal state documents made by the district attorney general or other state agents or law enforcement officers in connection with investigating or prosecuting the case. Nor does this rule authorize discovery of statements made by state witnesses or prospective state witnesses.”
Attorneys for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and for Metro Nashville argued the information is protected as part of the evidence collected during the investigation and cannot be released before the case has concluded.
Two former football players, Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, were convicted of all charges against them in the rape but are still awaiting sentencing. There are also two other defendants who have yet gone to trial.
“We have a constitutional law that prohibits what this organization of news organizations is trying to do,” attorney for the victim, known as ‘Jane Doe,’ Ed Yarbrough said.
The justices will issue a written decision on whether to release the evidence in coming months.
The Supreme Court does not have a set deadline, but a representative told News 2 it takes between three to six months.
News 2 was not one of the news organizations that joined the lawsuit with The Tennessean.
Thursday’s oral arguments took place in front of hundreds of high school girls at Lipscomb for the week long American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State (VGS).
This is the sixth year the Supreme Court has held session at the event. They also hold a similar session at the Boys State meeting in Cookeville.
“The supreme court and the court system is one of the things we teach them,” VGS Spokeswoman Julia Wells said. “The Girl State program is all about citizenship and helping them understand the role of city, county and state government.”
The girls were briefed on the case and the background on what both sides would argue.
“It is pretty common for people to have access to the courts in the city and the county, but the Supreme Court, not so much,” Wells said. “There is one of the Supreme Court justices who was a delegate to Girls State and one of the lawyers was a delegate to Girl State.”
Following the arguments, attorneys for the case held a question and answer session with the girls about the hearing.