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UPDATE: Judge dismisses Ritz's Board of Education lawsuit

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A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed against members of the State Board of Education, saying she didn’t have authority to go to court without representation from the attorney general.

However, Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg left open the opportunity for Attorney General Greg Zoeller to bring the suit back to court – and that Ritz might return to court if Zoeller refuses to represent.

“If her request is denied, that raises different issues than are now before the court,” Rosenberg said in his decision.

Meanwhile, four individuals have filed complaints with the public access counselor with the goal of taking the matter back to court.

The judge ruled three days after hearing oral arguments on whether the attorney general has the option of representing all state officials and agencies in court or the exclusive responsibility. Rosenberg’s decision favors the exclusive authority.

“The reason you don’t see one arm of state government’s executive branch sue another is because the statute and case law make it the attorney general’s responsibility to represent state agencies in court and harmonize their conflicting legal positions,” Zoeller said in a statement after the ruling.

“The judicial branch was not meant to oversee internal conflicts within the executive branch,” he said. “My office was not adverse to any of our clients but sought only to ensure proper legal procedures were followed.”

The decision did not address the underlying lawsuit, which accuses 10 members of the State Board of Education – who were all appointed by Republican governors – of violating the state’s Open Door Law by taking official action without meeting in public for a debate and vote.

Ritz read a statement about the ruling after adjourning a State Board of Education meeting on Friday.

“I have just heard the news. I have not seen the ruling so I obviously cannot comment on it specifically,” she said. “However I can say this: This case was filed because I believe the board took illegal action outside of the public arena and that needed to be stopped.

“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,” she said. “Open door laws are very important in the state of Indiana. All commissions and boards use them and action should always be taken in a public way and I stand by that.”

The lawsuit followed a letter the board members signed last month that asked GOP legislative leaders to have the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency calculate A-F school grades, even before the Department of Education had finished working on the data.

Attorneys for Ritz had argued in court that state law exempts the superintendent – and other officers created by the Indiana Constitution – from the requirement that she use the attorney general.

But Rosenberg did not find the argument persuasive. He said the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in previous cases that the attorney general must represent state officers in court – or give written permission for another attorney to do so.

“This court is obliged to follow” those precedents, Rosenberg said.

Gordon Hendry, an education board member, said he was pleased by the judge’s decision.

“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,” Hendry said.

But Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said after the ruling that Zoeller “now has a duty to render an opinion” about the underlying case.

“It would go a long way toward reaching common ground on this issue,” Lanane said.

But 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.”

When asked if she wanted to try to continue legal action, Ritz said, “I want the issue to be resolved. So I don’t know. I haven’t talked to my legal staff at all about the ruling.”

But she might not have to go back to court or ask for help from Zoeller.

Indianapolis attorney William Groth said four identical complaints were filed Friday with the state’s public access counselor alleging that the Board of Education acted illegally. Those complaints – which came from Tony Lux, Ed Eiler, Cathy Fuentes-Rohrer and Julie Hollingsworth - ask the public access counselor to issue informal opinions on the case quickly “because they intend to file an action in Marion Circuit Court” challenging the state board’s actions.

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  • Primary Issue
    Some folks have indicated that the primary issue is the appearance of a board meeting behind closed doors. None of us, of course, know whether or not that occurred, and I am certain that public clarity will be forthcoming on that point. However, I believe that the primary issue can be derived by asking "The Five Whys," a tool that almost always allows the root problem to be identified. Basically, one keeps asking "Why?" in response to the answer to the prior "Why?" question until the root of the problem is revealed. Applying that process here most likely will reveal that the Bi-Partisan Board of Education does not trust Ritz to fulfill her constitutional and legal obligations, and felt the need to take action without her involvement. Ritz's "performance" during Friday's Board meeting -- by the way, I truly hope that she is personally paying for the attorney who accompanied her to the meeting, and not the taxpayers, or else SHE may be sued for fraudulent use of taxpayer funds -- in which she refused to follow board-adopted rules in the conduct of the meeting only validates the rightness of the board sending the letter to the General Assembly a few weeks ago. Ritz is only pursuing her own personal agenda at the expense of school children, their families, and the electoral will of the people of Indiana who overwhelmingly affirmed educational progress in the most recent election by electing super-majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate in response to the actions of House Democrats the prior two years. Glenda -- it is past time for you to lead, follow or get out of the way.
  • Open Door Law Needs to be Upheld
    As I read many of the comments, I was disappointed to see that they are politically motivated. The primary issue is the Board members taking action behind closed doors and without the participation of the Chair of the Board. What the Board members did is contrary to state policy/law and this issue should be vetted and resolved so the members will not be emboldened to do this again.
    • I disagree
      I am not a teacher or a member of the teachers' union, but I still side with Superintendent Ritz. The State Board of Education took an action without a public meeting. The Open Door law may need to be updated, but the SBOE's letter violated the SPIRIT of the law. If a school board took action outside of a public meeting, people would be howling.
    • Lots of work to see that political donor schools get good grades
      It is still the corruption in giving charter schools to political donors rather than on any merit. The dishonest efforts in giving charters and seeing that the grades as skewed for charts is just too much. Costly for all.
    • Janice
      If you hate us so much then move!!! Strong words from uninformed citizens.
      • Appropriate Result
        People who want to politicize this will do so. The union will say it's the evil Republicans going against the "will of the people". Republicans will say Ritz is a bought and paid for shill of the unions who is stalling to cover the bad results which reveal incompetency. At the bottom of this is really boring stuff - legal procedure. It's not even close to sexy and nobody cares about it except, of course, lawyers.
      • Petty and Incompetent
        Simply one more example -- in a long line of missteps and untruths -- that Ritz is in WAY over her head. Unfortunately, it is our children who suffer due to her petty politics and incompetence. I urge the State Board of Education to keep a stiff spine and keep moving the world of education in Indiana forward in a prudent and aggressive manner.
      • Good Day
        ...and any day that a ruling solidly based on the law is upheld is a good day - not a sad day!!!!!
      • Truth is Right
        Truth Detector is absolutely right. She is not above the law and must follow the proper process.
      • Get a Clue
        I guess the rule of law means nothing to you (your ignore is truly the sad day for Indiana). Did you even read the article and what the judge ruled? Her ridiculous lawsuit isn't dead yet, but she must follow the law and the Supreme Court's case law JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE DOES. You and Ritz want to waste more and more tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits instead of spending time to maintain and improve education in our fine state....
      • Janice
        Just wondering, do you work for the teacher's union or as a teacher because they are the only one's who are on Ritz's side in this. Maybe if she acted like an adult or maybe a role model which is what we want of our teachers then this thing would get done and not have to go to court. Unfortunately she is 100% in the union's back pocket. She is stalling on the school grades because it will mean that some of her constituents are going to get shown they are not doing a very good job and they should find another line of work.
        • sad day: agreed
          It is indeed a sad day, when people resort to lawsuits because the majority disagree with them... Sad that an elected official would resort to scare tactics in order to avoid decisions that may not work in her favor.
        • sad day for hoosiers
          what a corrupt state we live in.

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