Regents might be deposed this week in joint media open meetings suit

Brad Unangst

Lawyers representing the five media organizations suing the University’s Board of Regents for allegedly breaking state laws in its presidential search said Monday they hope to schedule depositions in the case this week.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of some of Minnesota’s largest newspapers – including The Minnesota Daily, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press – on Nov. 8 in Hennepin County District Court, claims 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 the board cannot hold closed meetings regarding presidential searches.

On Nov. 10, the regents selected University interim President Robert Bruininks as the institution’s 15th president after interviewing an undisclosed number of semifinalists for the position.

While the upcoming holidays make December a difficult month to schedule regent depositions to clarify facts surrounding the search process, Mark Anfinson, the Daily’s attorney, said he is confident lawyers from both sides will be able to arrange interviews.

“We’re probably only going to depose a few of the regents,” he said.

But a legal response to the lawsuit filed by University counsel last Wednesday could make those depositions irrelevant.

The motion asks for the case to be dismissed on the grounds that Minnesota’s Data Practices Act and open meeting law do not apply to the regents during University presidential searches.

Rotenberg said the regents acted within their rights 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.

“We hope the court will agree with us that the regents have a legal right to do what they did in selecting a president for our University,” Rotenberg said, adding that if the court rules to dismiss the case, depositions by the regents are unnecessary.

A hearing date for the case has not been set, but lawyers for both parties expect it to be set after Jan. 1. Hennepin County Judge LaJune Lange was assigned to the case on Nov 21.

Anfinson, who is also the attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said the University’s motion is standard operating procedure in such cases.

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