Media groups sue for names of presidential candidates

Brad Unangst

Lawyers for the five media organizations suing the University’s Board of Regents for breaking state laws asked a Hennepin County judge to require that the University release the list of presidential finalists from its recent search.

The motion, filed Tuesday, asks the judge to rule on the lawsuit based on applying the law to the known facts of the case.

“The facts are clear. The law is clear. The judge doesn’t need to wait any longer on this,” said Mark Anfinson, attorney for The Minnesota Daily.

The suit was filed in November after the regents announced they would not reveal the names of those candidates interviewing for the position. They also voted to close all meetings to the public regarding the presidential search.

The plaintiffs – including The Minnesota Daily, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press – call for the regents to release the names of the candidates, admit they willfully broke Minnesota’s open meeting law and Data Practices Act, and legally establish the board cannot hold closed meetings regarding presidential searches.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the regents acted within their rights to follow state law according to the University’s charter – the institution’s governing document – in the presidential search process. He said the charter was entirely incorporated into Minnesota’s constitution.

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

Anfinson – also a lawyer for the Minnesota Newspaper Association – and other media analysts have questioned the legality of the University’s argument, saying the University cannot pick which state laws it will abide, especially when it receives funding from the state.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Pamela Alexander will hear the motion Jan. 16, Anfinson said.

That date falls two weeks before a scheduled hearing to dismiss the lawsuit based on University claims that the regents, when conducting a presidential search, are not required to comply with Minnesota’s open meeting law and Data Practices Act.

Anfinson said he was hoping both motions could be heard on the same date.

“We just want to move this thing along as fast as we can,” he said.

But in a letter to Alexander, University Associate General Counsel Lorie Gildea wrote that both motions should be heard on Jan. 31, the original hearing date.

Gildea said that issues in both motions are likely to overlap.

Hamline University constitutional and criminal law professor Mary Jane Morrison said while the open meeting law is ambiguous, the Data Practices Act states the University is subject to the law.

While there are some exemptions for personnel data, under the law, the names of the finalists would be public data, she said.

According to section 13.43, subsection 3 of the act, “Names of applicants shall be private data except Ö when applicants are considered by the appointing authority to be finalists for a position in public employment. For purposes of this subdivision, ‘finalist’ means an individual who is selected to be interviewed by the appointing authority prior to selection.”

“The law seems to be pretty clear,” Morrison said.

Anfinson and the other media lawyers agreed and contend that any list of candidates identified to be interviewed by the board – which will appoint the University’s president – must be made public.

By law, Alexander will have 90 days to rule on the summary judgment once it is filed, Anfinson said.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]