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Ole Miss Lets Freeze Review, Redact Phone Records

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USA TODAY

 

Hugh Freeze is being given the opportunity to review and redact phone records covering all five of his years as Mississippi's football coach, the university's general counsel, Lee Tyner, said Thursday.

Freeze resigned July 20 after a series of events triggered by a lawsuit filed by former coach Huston Nutt. Nutt's lawyer conducted a review of a portion of Freeze's phone records, uncovering a call Freeze failed to redact made from his cellphone to a female escort service. That prompted what Ole Miss called a more extensive review of the rest of Freeze's phone records, in which a "concerning pattern" was discovered, according to athletics director Ross Bjork.

USA TODAY Sports made an open-records request July 24 for Freeze's phone records associated with the phone he used during his five years at Mississippi.

When asked by USA TODAY Sports if Freeze was allowed to redact calls made to a female escort service, Tyner said, "If (any of Freeze's calls) were not business related, then he has the ability to redact them as personal. That's our best read on what the law is."

Freeze and his attorney have the phone records and the university expects to receive a copy with redacted calls soon, Tyner said. The school has estimated they will release the phone records in 10 to 14 days.

"We told them a long time ago we're getting a lot of requests for these, you better start identifying your personal calls," Tyner said.

Freeze's attorney, W.G. Watkins, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Freeze has the ability to redact phone calls that might have led to his resignation because they are not considered business calls, Tyner said.

"There's lots of things that may form the basis for personnel action that would not be subject to the public records laws," Tyner added. "We have an obligation to both provide public records and preserve people's privacy rights, and we're trying to do that."

Tyner cited a letter written in response to USA TODAY Sports' request for a more detailed explanation of the legal interpretation about what calls the school considers public record.

The school said in the letter that Freeze's phone was provided by the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and that allowed Freeze to use the phone for personal and business calls. The foundation is a private, non-profit organization that provides "direct and indirect funding ... and other support for the University of Mississippi department of intercollegiate athletics," according to its most recently available federal tax records.

In the letter, university assistant general counsel Robert T. Jolly, wrote that cellphones used by athletics personnel, including Freeze, were provided by the foundation.

Jolly wrote that "Mississippi law prohibits personal use of state-issued cellphones and requires elaborate and time-consuming reconciliation of all activities on state cellphones. As a result, very few University employees use state-issued phones. This has been the case for about ten years."

But Jolly also wrote that to ensure compliance with NCAA rules, the foundation "provides the University detailed usage information designed to meet our compliance needs."

The school also estimated it would cost more than $20,000 to review all of Freeze's records and redact students' phone numbers, which the school said it must do to comply with federal privacy laws.

The school said it would absorb the costs it said ordinarily are passed along to the person requesting records.

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August 4, 2017
 
 
 

 

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