Nevada regents violated state law by use of phone calls and faxes





NEVADA — The Nevada Board of Regents violated the state open meetings law when it used phone calls and faxes to decide how it would respond to a publicly dissident regent, the state supreme court decided in April.

The case arose when the board chairman, James Eardley, had the university’s director of public information draft a response to regent Nancy Price who disagreed with how an external auditor and university presidents were chosen. The draft was faxed to the other board members (except Price) who responded individually with phone calls.

Their response was never released, but Price’s complaints prompted Nevada’s Attorney General, Frankie Sue Del Papa, to sue the regents, who oversee public universities in the state, for violating the open meetings law.

The state’s highest court agreed with a 3-1 decision in Del Papa v. Board of Regents, No. 28966 (Nev., Apr. 9, 1998). “We believe that the legislature intended to prohibit public bodies from making decisions via serial electronic communications. … [I]f a quorum is present, or is gathered by serial electronic communications, the body must deliberate and actually vote on the matter in a public meeting,” Justice William Maupin wrote in the majority opinion.

Nevada’s Deputy Attorney General, Robert Auer, expressed his satisfaction with the ruling. “The court made some good law that any types of serial electronic communication … would violate the open meetings law.”

Auer noted that the decision applies to all Nevada bodies that are subject to the open meetings law, from state boards down to local school boards.

However the state supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision not to issue an injunction instructing the regents to not engage in the practice again. Auer has a qualified disappointment with that portion of the ruling, commenting, “It seemed like logic wouldn’t follow that they wouldn’t grant the injunction. But we’re pleased that the court affirmed our position.”


reports, Spring 1998