By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
A complaint about the State Board of Education’s spring meetings will proceed to a civil trial.
Fourth District Judge Jason Scott issued a written order on Nov. 8 in the lawsuit filed by the Attorney General, siding in-part with the Idaho State Board of Education but declining to dismiss the case.
If the judge ultimately sides with Attorney General Raúl Labrador, it could jeopardize the University of Idaho’s $550 million acquisition of University of Phoenix.
The State Board of Education had requested a summary judgment after the AG’s Office filed lawsuit, claiming the board illegally met in the spring to discuss the University of Idaho’s plan to purchase the University of Phoenix. A summary judgment would determine the merits of the case.
The attorney general’s office asked the court to declare that the Board of Regents violated Idaho’s Open Meetings Law by holding executive sessions to discuss the acquisition of the University of Phoenix on May 15 and May 18. The AG’s Office also claimed the agenda and its posting for the April 25 and May 18 meeting were inadequate.
Judge Scott disagreed with some of Labrador’s office’s arguments, finding that the board held one of those meetings legally, and the use of executive session was appropriate.
There was one exception he couldn’t determine, he wrote in his order. The Board has claimed they were in executive session for the purpose of negotiations, something that the deputy attorney general assigned to the board did not stop.
Idaho Code allows for officials to meet away from the public in executive session for certain narrow reasons, including negotiating matters of trade or commence in which the governing body is in competition with governing bodies or other states – in this case, the University of Arkansas, which ultimately declined to pursue a University of Phoenix acquisition.
The attorney general’s office said it saw no evidence there was competition from other states to buy the University of Phoenix to justify the executive session. The University of Arkansas board of trustees voted down the proposed acquisition on April 24, before the Board of Regents met May 15.
Scott didn’t issue a summary judgment on whether the board reasonably believed it was in competition with the University of Arkansas or any other governing body during its May 15th meeting.
The court will schedule a civil trial in the case to interpret that.
Scott found the claims about agendas are time-barred. The law states a claim must be filed within 30 days of the action, so those claims were denied, as it was too late to bring them.
The court denied the attorney general’s request for a continuance for more time to conduct discovery.
“The State Board of Education is pleased that Judge Scott dismissed all but one of the Attorney General’s claims,” wrote Matt Freeman, executive director of the State Board of Education, in a Monday statement. “It is unfortunate, though, that the public has to bear the expense of having the invalid claims dismissed. The Board appreciates the Court’s request for a trial to determine the remaining issue, and we are confident the State Board will once again prevail.”
Attorney General Raúl Labrador issued the following statement about the case on Monday:
“In May, the State Board of Education voted to obligate the State to purchase the University of Phoenix in an approximately $700 million deal. Nearly all of its deliberations were hidden from the public. Many details of that deal remain unknown to the public. For months, the State Board of Education has resisted accountability and has loudly claimed that my office was pursuing baseless claims. Yesterday, the Ada County District Court said otherwise. The court’s decision demonstrates just how credible this case has always been. Despite dismissing several of our serious allegations on procedural technicalities, the court nevertheless rejected the State Board of Education’s motion to dismiss this case and instead held that the evidence warrants a trial.”
The next court date in the case is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Nov. 16.
Editor’s disclosure note: Idaho Public Television is under the Idaho State Board of Education.