State Supreme Court to hear journalists' case

Student newspaper still fighting for right to question governor's action before regents meeting

CALIFORNIA — The state Supreme Court decided June 17 to review an appellate court decision on a student newspaper’s right to sue Gov. Pete Wilson and the University of California board of regents for violations of open meetings laws.

The Daily Nexus, the student newspaper of the University of California at Santa Barbara, claims that the governor, who serves on the board, privately contacted a quorum of board members prior to a public meeting on July 20, 1995, and locked-up votes to end affirmative action at the system schools.

The case reached the state Supreme Court after two lower courts dismissed Gov. Wilson’s motion to throw out the case. The trial and appellate court, however, dismissed the motion on different grounds.

The regents argued that the 30-day statute of limitation expired because Tom Molloy, the The Daily Nexus reporter who investigated the meetings, did not file suit until February 1996 — almost seven months after the regent’s vote. They also contended that Molloy did not have the right to pursue his case.

The trial court decided that there were triable issues since Molloy had been denied dozens of requests for phone records and received mixed information from the governor1s office about the records.

Judge William Cahill of the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the statute of limitations did not apply because there was evidence of fraudulent concealment. At the appellate level last March, the court overturned part of the trial court decision and ruled that Molloy did fail to meet the statute of limitations.

“That Molloy wanted to investigate further is commendable, but nothing would have prevented such continuing investigation during the pendency of a lawsuit,” wrote associate justice Joanne C. Parrilli of the First District Court of Appeals.

But the court allowed Molloy to pursue his lawsuit ruling that the 30-day statutory limit only applies to cases where the plaintiff seeks to nullify the action at a meeting. In Molloy’s case, nullifying the affirmative action vote would mean few, if any, changes since Proposition 209, passed by California voters in November 1996, also bans affirmative action programs at schools in the state.

In a final effort, the governor filed a motion with the state Supreme Court to dismiss the suit. In mid-June, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Dan Tokaji, attorney for The Daily Nexus, said his client remains adamant about continuing the case despite the governor1s efforts to stall the trial.

“We very much look forward to the state Supreme Court hearing our case,” Tokaji said. “It raises the question of whether the regents can conduct a secret meeting, lie about it and walk off scot-free.”

The governor could not be reached for comment.

Fall 1998, reports