« Ind. Gov't. - Indiana's federally run health insurance marketplace and potential impact of lawsuit by Pence/Zoeller | Main | Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues a second opinion today »

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ind. Courts - State Board of Education settles Open Door lawsuit filed by Ed Eiler, et al. [Updated]

Updating this ILB post from July 28th about the lawsuit, Eiler v. State Board of Education, where the issue was whether or not the members of the State Board of Education violated the open meeting law in agreeing to and ratifying by email a letter to legislative leaders, after the adjournment of an open meeting, the parties today agreed to a settlement. Here is the news release of the plaintiffs:

Today the parties in the Open Door Lawsuit filed last December against the Indiana State Board of Education, Eiler, et al. v. Indiana State Board of Education, reached a signed settlement agreement.

The State of Indiana agreed to pay all of Plaintiffs’ accrued attorney fees and court costs. Given the length of time since the actions in question occurred and the costs involved in continuing to pursue the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs agreed to abandon further legal action. Although the Board made no admission of improper conduct, the Plaintiffs believe that the Board’s agreement to pay attorney fees and court costs speaks for itself.

The case did identify a potential ambiguity in the Open Door Law, which is whether agencies and boards in Indiana may “meet” to conduct official business or to take final action entirely by group email, as occurred in this case. The use of emails to conduct the public’s business creates a risk that public officials will engage in private debate and discussion on matters that belong at public meetings subject to public scrutiny. This is an issue which the General Assembly needs to address next year so that the intent of the Open Door Law--that the official actions of public agencies be conducted transparently so that the public may be fully informed—is not once again compromised.

Here is the 2-page settlement agreement. Here are the pertinent provisions:
3. In consideration of Plaintiffs' agreed upon dismissal of the Lawsuit with prejudice; their abandonment of all claims sought in their Complaint; and their abandonment of any and all requests,(including requests for documents under the Access to Public Records Act) relief or remedies in any manner arising ftom the facts that gave rise to the Complaint; Defendant, without malcing any admission of fault or improper conduct, agrees to reimburse Plaintiffs' reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.

4. Defendant further agrees that the sum of Fifteen Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($15,500.00) represents a reasonable attorneys' fee and that One Hundred Forty One Dollars ($141.00) represents Plaintiffs' recoverable costs, and that these amounts shall be paid not later than 21 days from the Court's approval of this Settlement Agreement.

[Updated at 5:50 PM] Here is another statement:
At-Large State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry issued the following statement in response to the announcement today that the Attorney General has agreed to settle a lawsuit against the State Board for alleged violations of the Open Door Law late last year.

The settlement includes the payment of legal fees to plaintiffs’ attorneys with admission that no violation of the Open Door Law occurred and no ability for plaintiffs to ever bring the lawsuit again.

“It’s unfortunate that a frivolous lawsuit like this one wasted so much time and energy that would have been better spent focusing on the needs of Indiana’s students.

“The most important thing to take away from this agreement is that no violation of the Open Door law occurred, and this case is permanently laid to rest.

“As former Public Access Counselor for the City of Indianapolis, I’m well acquainted with these laws and knew from the outset that this lawsuit was just a ploy to distract from the recent progress our state has made in K-12 education.

“That being said, I’ve long been an advocate for improving our access laws and making sure they are evolving in step with technology. I’d welcome a conversation with the Department of Education, the Governor, the Attorney General and the General Assembly about ways lawmakers can improve transparency in government so Hoosiers can see how their tax dollars are being spent.

“For now, though, I’m relieved that we can get back to the important work of helping our schools, teachers, parents and students succeed.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 3, 2014 02:39 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Government