The ACLU of Southern California expressed strong disapproval of today's decision by the California State Supreme Court in Regents v. Superior Court (formerly Molloy v. Regents ), a case arising from the University of California Board of Regents' approval of resolutions abolishing affirmative action. The Court held that student reporter Tim Molloy and the UCSB student newspaper, The Daily Nexus, may not pursue their claim that former Governor Pete Wilson and the U.C. Board of Regents violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, in voting to approve resolutions abolishing affirmative action at the U.C. Today's ruling reverses lower court decisions, which had allowed Molloy's case to go forward. Still in question, and unresolved by today's decision, is whether then-Governor Wilson violated the Public Records Act by refusing to turn over telephone records of his conversations with other members of the Board of Regents.
A coalition of civil liberties and civil rights groups representing The Daily Nexus, and reporter Tim Molloy had argued that Wilson violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act by secretly locking up the votes through a series of private phone conversations to the regents in the days prior to the July meeting at which the resolutions were formally approved. Such conduct would violate the Open Meeting Act, which protects the public's right to see, hear, and participate in decisions made by government bodies like the Board of Regents and expressly forbids secret commitments to vote a particular way. The Superior Court (Judge David Garcia) and the Court of Appeal had allowed Mr. Molloy and The Daily Nexus to pursue their claims. The Supreme Court reversed on procedural grounds, without ruling on the ultimate question whether Wilson and the regents broke the law.
We're very disappointed by today's ruling,. said ACLU/SC staff attorney Dan Tokaji, who argued the case on behalf of reporter Molloy and The Daily Nexus. This ruling strikes a blow to the gut of the Open Meeting Act. It allows public officials to meet in secret, hide their wrongdoing for a mere 30 days, and get off scot free. We believe that this is against the will of the people of California, who meant to hold all public officials including the governor accountable to the public..
Tokaji added: As a result of today's decision, a cloud of suspicion will always hang over the Wilson Administration. The public is denied the opportunity to find out whether he broke the law. The ruling cuts off any inquiry into whether Wilson and the regents went behind the public's back..
It's disappointing that the Supreme Court threw out our Open Meeting Act claim, said lead plaintiff Tim Molloy. But it provides an impetus to pursue our Public Records Act claim even more intently..
In addition to the ACLU of Southern California, the First Amendment Project, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, ERA, and the ACLU of Northern California all participated in the case.