SALT LAKE CITY — The method by which State School Board members are nominated is not unconstitutional, but public meeting laws were not adhered to during the spring 2010 selection process, a Utah court ruled Tuesday.
Third District Court Judge Anthony Quinn ruled to not overturn the selections made by the Committee For the Recruitment and Nomination of Members for the Utah State Board of Education earlier this year. Denis Morrill is the outgoing board member for District 9 and filed a lawsuit against the governor and committee requesting, among other things, that the court overturn the committee's decision not to select him to run for re-election.
The governor-appointed committee is tasked with narrowing down the list of prospective school board candidates to at least three for each district seat up for election. The governor then narrows the list to two, and those names are placed on the general election ballot. Morrill's name was not selected by the committee in May to be passed on to the governor.
Morrill alleged that the nominating process itself was unconstitutional because it "unlawfully delegates to private, unaccountable parties, a public power to select candidates to a constitutional office."
The court disagreed, stating that the committee's decisions "are neither binding nor unilateral, since the ultimate decision as to who is elected ... is determined by the outcome of a general election by the public."
The court did agree with Morrill that the committee did not abide by public meeting laws, but didn't find enough reason to overturn its nominations based on those violations. The committee voted by secret ballot and did not record its meetings.
"The Committee clearly violated the (Utah Open Public Meetings Act) on numerous occasions, and these violations undoubtedly interfered to some degree with the public's access to the process," Quinn wrote.
"The Committee's violations of the (Utah Open Public Meetings Act) cannot be rectified by voiding the committee's final actions," Quinn's ruling states. "Voiding their actions will mean that no school board members will serve that were appointed in accordance with the statutory scheme. More importantly, the voters will have no opportunity to express their will."
The court stated it has "no rational basis" to overturn the committee's decision regarding Morrill, since the committee made several other decisions Morrill wasn't concerned with overturning.
"Plaintiff asks this court to void only approximately 10 percent of the committee's final action. ... If the violations of the (Utah Open Public Meetings Act) so tainted the reliability of the process that the final actions should be voided, they should be voided in their entirety," Quinn wrote.
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