South Dakota judge orders meetings open

SOUTH DAKOTA — A judge ordered Wednesday that student journalists should be allowed to sit in on interviews with a school’s presidential candidates after the board of regents attempted to have the meetings closed to all media.

South Dakota State University Collegian Editor in Chief Jeremy Fugleberg said the board of regents invited students to attend the forums scheduled for Sept. 14 and Sept. 15, but said student journalists would be asked to leave, which prompted Fugleberg to take legal action. South Dakota Circuit Court Judge Rodney Steele issued the seven-day restraining order requiring the university to open the meetings, because the student journalists would “suffer the immediate and irreparable injury of being unable to attend and/or report on the forums.”

“As a student I am here for me, and as a journalist I’m here for a different role — to record history and inform the student body,” Fugleberg said. “I take that responsibility seriously.”

John Arneson, the Collegian‘s lawyer, argued under South Dakota’s open meetings law that the meeting should be open to the media because it is a forum of interaction between several constituencies and not a discussion of personnel issues.

According to the Collegian‘s complaint, “The forums in issue are clearly designed to be an exchange between the students and candidates, not an assessment of the candidates by the regents. The Board of Regents might consider the ‘feedback’ from the forums in the course of discussing the ‘qualifications…of the prospective public employees’ in an executive session, should there be a motion and vote to do so, is an entirely distinct matter and one that is completely irrelevant to this issue.”

Arneson said the Board of Regents could not “cut out the fact-finding process” and will come to “its own decision” on who to hire. The board decided to open the interviews to all media after the order was issued.

But Fugleberg said he and local journalists were escorted out of a lunch meeting Thursday after the board went into executive session. However, notification of a closed meeting and an agenda was not given, violating the restraining order. Fugleberg said he will pursue further action regarding the violation at a hearing next week.

The board wanted to sweep out the media, specifically the student media, from all meetings and forums, Arneson said.

“Students feel like they are cut out of the process,” Fugleberg said. “We are receiving a tremendous amount of support from students, faculty, alumni and the state media.”

Arneson said he will return to court Tuesday to seek a permanent injunction.