Former treasurer comments on lawsuit

The staff of the Daily is to be commended for a generally balanced approach to reporting on my lawsuit against the University Regents and President Mark Yudof. It is a complicated subject, even for attorneys. Disappointingly, I found Thursday’s article to be unbalanced, with extensive coverage of the University’s position without the same extensive coverage of my position. The University’s position, as reported in the Daily, was tantamount to character assassination, which one resorts to when one has neither the law nor the facts on their side.
In the name of equal time, I offer the key elements of my lawsuit, without getting into legalese and numerous case cites.
Fundamentally, the Court of Appeals review is limited to these four questions below: 1) Did those who took action against the treasurer — President Yudof and Regents’ Chairwoman Spence — at the relevant time have the proper authority and jurisdiction? The answer is no. 2) Were the proceedings irregular? The answer is yes, they were irregular. 3) Were any laws violated during the proceedings? The answer is yes. And finally, 4) Were the proceedings arbitrary, capricious, oppressive or fraudulent? The answer is yes.
Under the Charter of 1851, the Board of Regents appoints the treasurer and, thus, is the appointing authority. The significance is that President Yudof and Chairwoman Spence never had any authority over the treasurer as the 1851 Charter provides for a constitutional separation of powers between the treasurer and the president. The other significance of the charter is that all financial functions are to report to the treasurer. (The charter is available on the regents’ Web site.)
President Yudof and Chairwoman Spence knew they had no authority to investigate the treasurer, much less put me on administrative leave, reassign my duties and give notice of nonrenewal. As the treasurer, the full Board of Regents had to take action as a pre-condition.
Action was not taken until Feb. 11, 2000, after the illegal acts were committed and the damages suffered, and was an admission that: 1) President Yudof and Chairwoman Spence had no authority between October 1999 and Feb. 11, 2000, and continue to lack authority over the treasurer; 2) the regents have never had a policy on the bondability of officers of the University and now they are setting a disparate standard that is discriminatory; 3) regents’ action on Feb. 11 did not ratify any actions taken by President Yudof and Chairwoman Spence as nothing in the resolution speaks to ratification of past actions; and 4) regents’ action on Feb. 11 was illegal because a) illegal acts cannot be ratified; b) because my appeal to the courts was perfected in December 1999, the regents lost jurisdiction over the matter; c) actions that contravene a third party’s rights cannot be ratified; and d) the action is not part of the required record submitted by the University back in January when they told the court that the record was complete.
Under case law, the decision-making body must give a written rationale for their decision and identify the evidence that supports their decision. Lacking this, their decision is deemed arbitrary, capricious, oppressive or fraudulent.
Because the regents had not previously authorized the actions by President Yudof and Chair Spence, they had a need to circle the wagons to protect their own, resulting in the ill-advised Feb. 11 action. By all appearances, the fact that there were no public discussions, there are questions of whether the regents violated the Minnesota Open Meeting Laws.
President Yudof misrepresented his authority to me because he believed I was not aware of the contours of the 1851 Charter. He enlisted Chairwoman Spence as part of this deception. But Chairwoman Spence misrepresented her authority because under Regent By-Laws, no one regent may act on behalf of the board unless prior authority has been delegated (the by-laws are available at the regents’ Web site). Nowhere is there a record that the board delegated any authority. One can only conclude that President Yudof and Chairwoman Spence lied to the public and me.
Because the misrepresentations of authority and removal from office were made by fax and U.S. mail, there may be implications of mail and wire fraud.
Under the Minnesota Constitution, the only way that the treasurer, a public official, can be removed from office is if there is a finding of malfeasance or nonfeasance in the performance of the duties. Neither of these findings were ever made. If you go back and look at the newspaper interviews, President Yudof has always stated that the investigation had nothing to do with my job performance. I was appointed to a two-year term as treasurer, so I have the right and duty to serve out my term through June 30, 2001, as stated in the June 1999 resolution.
The University attempts to blow out of proportion the status of my personal taxes and prior litigation. The facts are that under the U.S. laws, filing extensions are legal. The University was fully aware of my past litigation in 1997 when I was hired, when the regents appointed me treasurer in the fall of 1997 and when they reappointed me in June 1999. Their positioning that they knew nothing about the past litigation is a fabrication.
In conclusion, even if all of the University’s allegations that I’m just a god-awful person were true, I still have due- process rights under my employment contract that were clearly violated. I have rights to privacy and constitutional and statutory protections. Additionally, as a public official, the Minnesota Constitution sets the standard at malfeasance or nonfeasance of duties for removal from office. Regardless of the autonomy of the University, they are a state government entity and must adhere to the Minnesota and U.S. constitutions and abide by the laws of this state and country.

Georgina Stephens is the University’s former treasurer. Send letters to the editor at [email protected]