COLORADO — A six-month legal battle between a student newspaper editor at Mesa State College and the school’s board of trustees came to a close in August when audio tapes recorded during closed-door meetings held by the board were released to the public.
The tapes were released as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Mesa State junior Megan Fromm in March 2004. Fromm, then editor of her school paper, the Criterion, submitted a freedom of information request for the recordings of the board of trustees’ meetings, held in November 2003. Fromm’s request was denied, which prompted her to go forward with the lawsuit.
The recordings contained the board’s discussions of their search for a new university president. According to the Colorado Open Meetings Law, public bodies must hold open meetings when conducting official business. This includes personnel searches unless the candidate requests a closed session.
“Every minute of those four-hour tapes were illegal,” said Fromm, who is now a journalism intern at the Student Press Law Center.
In July, a judge denied the board’s motion to dismiss Fromm’s suit and ordered the two parties in the case to reach a settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, the tapes were made public and Fromm’s legal fees were paid.
“She was just following through on what any responsible journalist would have done,” said Criterion adviser Laurena Mayne Davis.
The board was less than a year old when the lawsuit began. One board member said this may have been responsible for the board’s conduct.
“When you have a brand new board … it’s easy to make procedural mistakes,” trustee Gayla Jo Slauson said. “Ultimately it worked out and we moved on.” The Board of Trustees hired a new college president at the end of the spring term.
Fromm expressed relief that the lawsuit had reached its conclusion.
“It was such a process,” she said. “Now I can have a life again.”
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