U to dispute attorney fees

The state Supreme Court ruled the University must pay attorney fees to five media outlets.

Molly Moker

The University will dispute paying approximately $330,000 in fees to five media organizations that won a lawsuit against the institution this summer in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In July, the state high court ruled the University broke state Data Practices Acts and Open Meeting Laws by closing meetings when interviewing and selecting the next University president.

The five media organizations – The Minnesota Daily, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Star Tribune, Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Minnesota Joint Media Committee – asked the Court for $317,000 in attorney fees and $13,000 in costs.

The University said Wednesday, however, that it is not required to pay any fees under the state public information laws that were broken. It also said the news organizations need to prove they incurred the expenses they’re requesting.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the Board of Regents acted in good faith when it broke the laws, which the Supreme Court should consider when handing out the penalties.

Star Tribune attorney John Borger, who represents the media outlets, said the Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act allow attorney fees.

Rotenberg said all the University needed to do was release the confidential information.

“We’re urging the court to conclude the case at this time,” Rotenberg said. “We understand the court’s ruling on the constitutional issue. We will abide by it, and it should end there.”

Rotenberg said the court can decide to award all, part or none of the requested fees.

A decision like this normally takes approximately 60 days, he said.

He also said that if the University needs to pay the fee, the money could come from several places.

The University has a budget for the general counsel’s office and a separate budget for unforeseen events, Rotenberg said.

“The University will not take this money from any particular college or a research project,” he said.

Tuition will also not pay for the possible fee, he said.

Along with fees, the newspaper also asked that the case return to district court, where additional issues can be resolved.

Borger said the University and the media organizations need to settle issues such as how much damage the prolonged release of the names caused, whether the courts will prevent the University from using similar tactics again and assurance that the University won’t conduct another confidential presidential search.

The media organizations might ask for additional fees at the district court level, Borger said. The fees they already requested are for costs accumulated through Sept. 1, he said.

“If there are additional fees incurred, they may be subject to pay additional fees,” he said.

The state Supreme Court could decide at separate times about the attorney fees and whether the case will be sent back to the district court for further judgment. Either decision could come first or could be decided simultaneously, he said.