A legal battle over the public's right to see a UCF professor's emails -- about a controversial study touted by opponents of gay marriage before the US Supreme Court -- will go to trial April 9.
The lawsuit was filed by LGBT activist John Becker after UCF denied his public records request for certain emails from UCF Professor James Wright, the editor-in-chief of the Social Science Research journal, nearly one year ago.
That journal published the New Family Structures Study, which suggests children of same sex couples are more likely to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts, identify as bisexual or gay, be unemployed and smoke marijuana, according to Focus on the Family.
Becker has alleged the study was tainted with conflicts of interest in the peer review process and wanted the records to "discover the truth" as an investigative journalist.
Becker's attorney, Andrea Mogensen, told a judge "there's informal conversations between Dr. Wright and others regarding what his personal position is on the issues of same sex marriage" and Becker intends "to bring to light what the true motivations are behind people who are holding themselves out to be unbiased when they're doing this type of science."
When asked if UCF stood behind the study, UCF spokesman Grant Heston said only that "the study was conducted by a professor at another university. UCF was not involved in the study." Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas authored the study, but communicated about it with his editor, UCF Professor Wright.
UCF has argued that it's not required to release the records because they were “made by Doctor Wright in his position as editor of SSR and are not university records." UCF also pointed out Wright has a contract with Elsevier to work on the journal and argued "any documents relating to SSR, or to Dr. Wright’s work on SSR are the property of SSR."
But Ninth Circuit Court Judge Donald Grincewicz disagreed with UCF. His November ruling pointed out Wright's "work on the article used UCF facilities and resources, employed students who were paid by UCF but work solely on the Journal" and ordered that the records UCF claims "are 'not university business' are indeed public records."
UCF appealed the ruling and argued it should have had a chance for a full trial prior to the case being decided. A new judge, John Kest, has since taken over the case and agreed to set the issue for a two day trial starting April 9. Kest ruled Elsevier could also intervene as a plaintiff, over the objections of Becker's attorneys.
UCF and Becker had engaged in "very serious global settlement negotiations" but they "derailed" without resolution, UCF attorney Rick Mitchell said, according to a court transcript.
The Becker legal battle appears to have cost UCF at least $100,000, according to invoices the GrayRobinson law firm sent the university. The exact cost attributed to the Becker case is unclear, because some legal fees for the Becker case also appear in invoices from a separate public records lawsuit UCF is defending and vice-versa.