California Supreme Court dismisses open-meetings case

Monday, June 7, 1999

The California Supreme Court recently rejected a lawsuit contending that a
former governor illegally rounded up votes on the University of California Board
of Regents in an effort to dismantle affirmative action programs at the state's
largest universities.

The court ruled that student reporter Tim Molloy and The Daily Nexus,
the student newspaper at the University of California-Santa Barbara, could not
pursue their claim that former Gov. Pete Wilson and the board violated the
state's Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act.

The court said Molloy and the newspaper had failed to file their lawsuit
within the 30 days required by the state law.

“This ruling strikes a blow to the gut of the Open Meeting Act,” said Dan
Tokaji, a staff attorney for the Southern California American Civil Liberties
Union who represented Molloy and The Daily Nexus. “It allows public
officials to meet in secret, hide their wrongdoing for a mere 30 days and get
off scot-free.”

Molloy and The Daily Nexus filed a lawsuit in February 1996 claiming
that Wilson and the board had violated the state open-meetings law.
Specifically, they said Wilson secretly locked up the votes through a series of
private phone conversations prior to the July 20, 1995, meeting at which the
board voted to approve resolutions abolishing affirmative action in the
university system.

Wilson and the board sought to have the suit, Regents v. Superior
dismissed on procedural grounds, specifically that Molloy had not
made a demand for corrective action within a required 30-day period after the
alleged violation.

Both a superior court judge and the state Court of Appeals allowed Molloy to
pursue his case. But the Supreme Court dismissed the case, noting that Molloy
took more than seven months to file a claim against the regents.

Regents did not return calls about the case.

In a statement, Tokaji said the decision left a “cloud of suspicion” over
Wilson's administration.

“The public is denied the opportunity to find out whether he broke the law,”
he said. “The ruling cuts off the inquiry into whether Wilson and the regents
went behind the public's back.”