Regents to respond to lawsuit

Brad Unangst

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said Thursday he intends to file a response next week to allegations that the Board of Regents broke state laws when it secretly interviewed presidential candidates in early November.

The lawsuit, filed by five media organizations Nov. 8 in Hennepin County District Court, alleges the board willfully broke Minnesota’s open meeting law and Data Practices Act. It asks the regents to release the names of the candidates and legally establish that the board cannot hold closed meetings regarding presidential searches.

Rotenberg confirmed his defense will be that the regents acted within their rights according to the University’s charter – the governing document of the institution – in the presidential search process. He said the charter was entirely incorporated into Minnesota’s constitution.

“The charter is critical to us,” Rotenberg said.

Section 9 of the charter grants the regents the power to elect a University president as well as to enact University laws.

Mark Anfinson, attorney for The Minnesota Daily and the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said for the regents to think they are above the law is appalling.

Anfinson said he is skeptical the argument will be accepted in court, but added, “(Rotenberg) is entitled to try.”

He said once the response is filed, attorneys for both sides can begin taking regent depositions to gain a better understanding of how the interview process unfolded.

Hennepin County Judge LaJune Lange was assigned to the case Thursday.

Anfinson anticipates going to court early next year.

A ruling in the case would not only affect future University presidential hiring processes, but also establish a clear precedent for the hiring of all public officials in Minnesota.

Anfinson said a ruling against the regents would re-emphasize the importance of following the law when hiring anyone, including positions such as high school superintendent and county administrators.