Media lawsuit continues as U attorneys seek summary judgment

Josh Linehan

Legal maneuvering continued in the court case involving the Board of Regents’ presidential selection process as the University filed papers claiming it is not required to turn over discovery materials requested by the media organizations that filed the suit.

The response – filed last Friday – argues that since the University’s defense rests solely on Judge Pamela Alexander’s interpretation of Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act, no discovery is necessary.

The practical effect, however, might be to delay any discovery until after a ruling on the University’s motion to dismiss, said Mark Anfinson, The Minnesota Daily’s attorney.

The media organizations that brought the suit – including the Daily, Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press – will attempt to force a hearing on discovery before the dismissal ruling is handed down, because that decision could render discovery a moot point, Anfinson said.

At issue in the case is whether the University violated the state Data Practices Act or the Open Meeting Law when the regents voted to close a meeting where finalists for the presidency would be discussed.

Robert Bruininks was named the sole finalist and, days later was named president.

The suit argues the Open Meeting Law requires the regents meetings to remain open.

The Data Practices Act provides that names of finalists for public-sector jobs be made public.

The University argued in a Feb. 3 hearing that since the regents are endowed by the state constitution with exclusive power to do what is best for the University, their suspension of state law was justified.

They argued the step was not merely a procedural issue but a “major policy decision” the regents took only when convinced they would not be able to pursue a full list of candidates if finalists’ names were made public.

The request for discovery included all University documents addressing whether it is subject to the statutes, any documents relating to the desire of candidates to remain anonymous through the selection process and all documents stemming from the closed-door interviews of finalists during the presidential search.

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