NEW JERSEY — When staffers for The Montclarion, thestudent newspaper at Montclair State University, returned to school after winterbreak, they were shocked to find they would not be able to publish thesemester’s first issue.
Montclair State’s Student Government Association, which funds TheMontclarion, sent a letter signed by the SGA president and treasurer toEditor in Chief Karl de Vries on Jan. 22 informing him that the paper’s fundshad been frozen. SGA told The Montclarion‘s publishing company to ceaseprinting any issues until further notice. Under SGA policy, the SGA presidentand treasurer can freeze funds if they believe funds are being spent illegally,according to a copy of the letter faxed to the Student Press Law Center.
The dispute began in November when SGA President Ron Chicken fired TheMontclarion‘s attorney, Sal M. Anderton. Chicken said the retainer agreementbetween Anderton and the paper had never been properly authorized by the SGA.But the previous SGA president and treasurer had approved $5,000 in SGA fundsfor The Montclarion‘s legal fees, the paper reported. Anderton wasadvising The Montclarion on its accusation that a closed SGAsession violated New Jersey sunshine laws.
“It’s a petty, personal vendetta,” de Vries said of the funding freeze.”The SGA is holding myself and the paper responsible for its own mistake.”
SGA Treasurer Melissa Revesz, when reached by the SPLC, declined to commentand referred all questions to Chicken. Several calls and e-mails sent from theSPLC to Chicken today and Thursday were not returned.
Chicken will not release the paper’s funds until de Vries turns incorrespondence between The Montclarion and Anderton, de Vriessaid.
“I don’t understand on any level how that serves the student government,”de Vries said.
The Montclarion can make a strong argument for the correspondencebeing protected under attorney-client privilege, said Mike Hiestand, legalconsultant for the SPLC. Even though Anderton was being paid from SGA funds, hewas advising the paper on its claims against the SGA. This strongly suggeststhat “any attorney privilege was between the attorney and the paper,” Hiestandsaid.
SGA legislators will meet Jan. 30 to vote on whether to uphold the decisionto freeze the paper’s funds.
“I think it’s a very clear case,” de Vries said. “I’d be absolutely shockedbeyond belief if the legislature doesn’t see it that way.”
Meanwhile, The Montclarion will continue to publish on its Web site.