Joe Blake, in an image from the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
Joe Blake, in an image from the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

CSU tries stalling maneuver in open-meetings lawsuit brought by Coloradoan, other media outlets

A May 26 blog explored a lawsuit brought by the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the Pueblo Chieftain and the Colorado Independent website over their contention that Colorado State University violated open-meetings law in the way it anointed Joe Blake, former vice chairman of CSU's board of governors, as the sole finalist for the institution's chancellor position. In an earlier ruling, Larimer County Judge Stephen Schapanski approved a so-called "in-camera review" of the suit, based on what he called the "reasonable belief" that CSU had skirted regulations in the Blake matter. Hence, CSU was required to provide Schapanski with a complete recording of a four-hour meeting held on May 5 for his personal review; the university had already released one hour's worth of excerpts. But instead of complying with this order, which had a deadline of today, CSU's attorneys filed eleventh-hour paperwork asking that the case as a whole be dismissed, because, according to an article in today's Coloradoan, "the media organizations didn't ask for the recording before they sued. CSU argues that the media organizations ought to have asked for it first, then given notice they were planning to sue, before filing the lawsuit."

Even folks whose legal background consists of having seen half-an-episode of Law & Order will recognize this move as a delaying tactic designed to drain the plaintiffs' resources -- and in the aforementioned blog, Coloradoan editor Bob Moore spoke frankly about the expense of pursuing such a suit. Even so, his paper and its two partners are fighting back, having filed a motion for a stay of summary judgment (read it by clicking here), supplemented by a letter from Christopher Beall, the journalists' lawyer, to Fred Kuhlwilm, Colorado's senior assistant attorney general that's marked "Exhibit A." And in an e-mail exchange, Moore makes it clear that CSU's gambit has done nothing to lessen the resolve of the suit's backers.

"It's disappointing to see CSU and the attorney general take this approach on a matter of critical public concern," he writes. "CSU's actions since the lawsuit, particularly their decision last week to 'do-over' Joe Blake's selection as sole chancellor finalist, had seemed to indicate that they acknowledged that their initial process was badly flawed. That had given me some hope that things were improving at CSU. But the latest action, seeking to block the lawsuit on a technicality that's a stretch at best, suggests a return to the culture of secrecy that has dominated CSU governance in recent months.

"It certainly appears that CSU and the attorney general are trying to make this litigation as expensive as possible," he continues. "My only conclusion from that is they're hoping mounting legal costs might dissuade the plaintiffs from following through. The great irony, of course, is that when we prevail, the state taxpayers will be liable for those increased legal costs. That doesn't seem to be the wisest use of public dollars at a time when CSU is laying off employees and significantly raising student tuition."

Hard to argue with Moore's logic. Then again, CSU's behavior to date hasn't exactly been a paragon of clear thinking, let alone the transparency that's expected and required of a public institution.

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