Five media organizations win Regents lawsuit

Josh Linehan

A Hennepin County District Judge ruled in favor of five media organizations in their lawsuit against the University Board of Regents, saying the regents violated state law by keeping finalists’ names and data secret during the University’s search for a new president last fall.

Judge Pamela Alexander denied the University’s motion to dismiss and granted the plaintiff’s request for summary judgment. She said the regents dishonored Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act, and ordered the University to release all the requested data within five days of her ruling.

Several media organizations – including The Minnesota Daily, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press – filed suit, claiming the regents violated state sunshine laws.

The Minnesota Daily’s Editor in Chief Todd Milbourn said he was thrilled with the decision.

“It’s a great win for transparency and for doing the public’s business in public,” Milbourn said.

Immediately following the decision, University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg announced the regents plan to appeal the decision.

“We believe it is essential for the constitutional issues in this case to receive further judicial review, and a speedy appeal will provide this opportunity,” Rotenberg said in a prepared statement.

The regents then filed a motion to stay the decision, a request Judge Alexander denied Wednesday. The regents later filed an appeal, delaying the release of the names of the finalists until the appeal can be considered.

Also filed in the appeal was an affidavit on behalf of the unnamed finalists. The affidavit states that all finalists were interviewed for the job and were explicitly promised their names would not be revealed. It also says all of the applicants currently hold “high-level” positions at other colleges or universities.

The original decision said, in part, “The university is not ‘above the law,’ ” and ordered the Board of Regents to turn over the applicant data – including names, job history, rank on the list and education – of any finalists who were interviewed by the regents within five days of the March 13 decision.

John Borger, lead attorney in the case who appeared as counsel for the Star Tribune, said he was very pleased with the decision.

Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Daily, said the case was vindication for those who strongly believe public information should remain in the public domain.

“You look at the law and it seems pretty straightforward, but it’s always nice to have an independent voice agree with you,” he said.

The case began when the regents closed a meeting to discuss potential finalists to fill the president’s job, left open when Mark Yudof left the University to become chancellor of the University of Texas System. Two days later, the regents hastily called a press conference where they named Robert Bruininks – then interim president – the sole finalist for the job.

The case now heads to the court of appeals, where the University will again argue its constitutional autonomy would be threatened by disclosing the names.

Anfinson said a decision in the appeal is not likely for another six to seven months.

Josh Linehan covers legal affairs and

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