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Judge dismisses Ritz's open door suit

Ritz

– Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz against the state board of education.

The ruling came in the middle of a state board meeting, and the news raced from member to member through tweets and texts.

"This case was filed because I believe the board took illegal action outside of the public arena and that needed to be stopped," Ritz said. "I am disappointed in today's ruling and concerned for all Hoosiers that have their lives affected by unelected boards, particularly those that act perhaps in secret."

Ritz sued in October, alleging that the 10 other members of the State Board of Education violated the state's open meeting law by sending a letter to legislative leaders asking them to intervene in calculating A-F school grades for the 2012-13 school year.

That letter was emailed around for the members to sign – except for Ritz. Board members contend no meeting occurred in person or by phone, so there was no violation.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller contended Ritz was not allowed to file the suit without his permission and the court agreed.

Rosenberg said state law clearly gives the attorney general sole responsibility for the legal representation of the state.

Ritz's attorneys argued there are exceptions to the statute but the "court finds those arguments unpersuasive."

The ruling made clear the suit could be filed again by the attorney general or by counsel he has approved in writing.

"My office was not adverse to any of our clients but sought only to ensure proper legal procedures were followed," Zoeller said. "Now that this question is behind us, we encourage everyone to work to resolve their disputes in a way that respects one another and the state we all serve."

State board member Gordon Hendry said he is pleased with the dismissal.

"I hope that this is the end of it and we can move on in a collective fashion to focus on the critical issues facing Hoosier schools and school children," he said. "I hope we can hit the reset button now."

The judge did not make a finding on an allegation by Ritz that Zoeller denied her request to file, and that decision is "arbitrary and capricious."

Zoeller has not confirmed that he denied a request from Ritz.

"If her request is denied, that raises different issues than are now before the court," the ruling said. "The only fact that is clear on this topic is that the Attorney General did not give his written consent to plaintiff to retain counsel other than from his office."

An Indianapolis attorney also said shortly after the ruling that four citizens were filing complaints with the Indiana Public Access Counselor on Friday afternoon about the alleged open meetings violation.

Hendry said any citizen can address public access concerns with the counselor but "we feel confident that we were on firm legal standing."

nkelly@jg.net

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