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No privilege on Wartell report, appeals court rules

INDIANAPOLIS – Purdue University cannot claim attorney-client privilege in denying former IPFW Chancellor Michael Wartell a report related to his dismissal, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The court heard the case in December, and at that time expressed skepticism about Purdue’s actions.

The issue is whether attorney John C. Trimble was acting as Purdue's attorney, an independent investigator or both when he issued a report and recommendations to three members of the university's board of trustees.

Wartell sought access to that report but was denied by Purdue's claim of attorney-client privilege, which led to the lawsuit. He won an initial trial-court ruling and the appeals court upheld that finding.

“The attorney conducted his investigation in accordance with the specified procedures to be followed by the independent investigator, and the attorney did not inform Wartell that he was acting as Purdue’s legal counsel, as would be required under Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct,” the appellate decision said.

The ruling also said Purdue represented that it would appoint an independent investigator but then concealed from Wartell that the same attorney would act as Purdue’s legal counsel. That meant Wartell never had the opportunity to object.

Wartell was forced out at IPFW in 2011 because Purdue requires university executives to retire at age 65. Requests from IPFW that he be allowed to stay were denied.

Wartell filed a complaint against Purdue, claiming discrimination and harassment. Purdue hired Trimble as an independent investigator. The investigation was completed and the board found that no discrimination had taken place.

But nothing was ever released, to the public or to Wartell, who filed requests with Purdue officials and the state's public access counselor to see the report.

Purdue University has the right to appeal in the next 30 days to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Although IPFW offers programs from both Indiana and Purdue universities, its rules and funding are dictated by Purdue through a management agreement that expired in June but was extended a year.