California college paper loses case against governor

CALIFORNIA - A university newspaper lost a major open meetings battle on June 1 when the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the University of California's Board of Regents.

The Daily Nexus at the University of California at Santa Barbara alleged that through private phone calls, the 25-member board of regents, which included then-Gov. Pete Wilson, solicited votes to repeal the university's affirmative action policy before a public meeting on July 20, 1995.

But the court never decided if the regents' activities violated the state's open meetings law.

"They never gave us the chance to do that," said Matt Hurst, current Nexus editor in chief.

In Regents of the University of California v. Superior Court, 1999 WL 345507 (Cal. June 1, 1999), the state supreme court ruled that a 30-day statute of limitation applied, and had passed when The Daily Nexus, led by then-staff writer Tim Molloy, filed the lawsuit in February 1996. The Nexus claimed it did not learn of the phone conversations until more than 30 days after they occurred.

Nexus attorney Dan Tokaji told the Los Angeles Times, "[The court's decision] strikes a blow right in the gut of the open meetings act....It provides a virtual recipe for public officials to act in secret and then get away with it. All they need to do is conduct a secret meeting, conceal it for at least 30 days, and they get off scot-free."

"A cloud of suspicion will always hang over the Wilson administration," Tokaji said.

Wilson's term ended in December 1998.

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