Minnesota court to hear arguments in media suit

Nathan Halverson

The Minnesota Court of Appeals will hear arguments this week on whether the University’s Board of Regents broke the law by refusing to release presidential candidates’ names and conducting nonpublic interviews.

Neither the five media organizations that filed the suit nor the University thinks the case will end with the ruling on this appeal.

“I can guarantee you whoever loses this will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Mark Anfinson said Thursday. Anfinson is an attorney in the case and the Daily’s lawyer.

Both sides will present their arguments Tuesday in a case that will help determine whether the University is subject to certain state laws.

The civil case began last November when the media plaintiffs – the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, the Daily, the Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Minnesota Joint Media Committee – filed suit against the regents for breaking the Minnesota Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law.

“Given the importance of the position it should be a highly transparent and visible process,” Anfinson said.

The plaintiffs alleged the regents broke the law when they refused to release the presidential candidates’ names and held private interviews. The regents said they withheld the information because some of the applicants were high-ranking administrators at other colleges and did not want it made public they were considering the job.

The University’s Office of the General Counsel filed for a motion to dismiss the charges.

“The issue is to enable the regents to develop a process that will result in the best possible president,” University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said Thursday.

University attorneys argued the University is an autonomous branch of the state and therefore not subject to the two state laws.

Because the University concluded it would be detrimental to their presidential search to hold open meetings, former Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed announced they had “suspended” adherence to the law.

Hennepin County District Judge Pamela Alexander denied their motion to dismiss, and instead ruled in favor of the media plaintiffs.

Alexander said the regents dishonored Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act, which require most government meetings and information be made available to the public. She ordered the University to release all requested information about the candidates.

The University then appealed the ruling.

The issue of whether the University is accountable to state law has been a concern for lawmakers in the past.

A document drafted for state legislators by the research department of the Minnesota House of Representatives to clarify the issue stated courts will look at two factors when determining whether the state’s constitution would permit a law to apply to the University. The factors judges consider are that the law “(1) promotes the general welfare, and (2) makes very limited intrusions on the regents’ management duties.”

Judges James Harten, Barry Anderson and Wilhelmina Wright will hear the University’s appeal.

Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]