Appeals court rules Regents bound by state Public Access Laws

Court also rules Finalists Names must be released

Kari Petrie

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday the University Board of Regents is subject to two state public access laws, and required the board to release the names of finalists from its last presidential search.

The decision upheld a March ruling by the Hennepin County District Court requiring the board to release the names.

“It is a very important and powerful affirmation of the value of the state open records and open meetings laws,” said Mark Anfinson, attorney for The Minnesota Daily. “This is a resounding affirmation of the value of public access.”

The Daily, along with four other media organizations – the Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Minnesota Joint Media Committee – sued the board after it refused to reveal the names of finalists and voted to close all presidential search meetings.

The University argued Minnesota’s Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law did not apply to the regents when selecting a president because of the institution’s constitutional autonomy.

In the court’s decision, Judge James Harten said the laws do apply to the University when selecting a president and do not violate its constitutional autonomy.

The ruling gives the University 30 days to release the names of the finalists, pending further legal action.

Regent Chairman David Metzen said he expects the University to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said he would meet with regents before deciding to appeal.

“We don’t want to assume this (ruling) is the final word in the matter,” he said.

Anfinson also said he thought the decision would be appealed.

“Everybody who’s been involved in this case has believed it will end up with the (Minnesota) Supreme Court,” Anfinson said.

The Minnesota Supreme Court does not take all appeals, Anfinson said, but will likely take this case because the court has not dealt with this issue before and because of the University’s prominence in the state.

If the state Supreme Court does not take the case, finalist’s names will be released immediately, Anfinson said. If the court does take it, a ruling could take six to eight months, he said.

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