Skip to content
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

The University of Colorado Board of Regents will seek to appeal a Denver District Court ruling that it violated the Colorado Open Records Act.

In a special virtual meeting on Friday, the board voted 5-4 to appeal a March 6 ruling on a lawsuit brought by the Daily Camera that found regents improperly denied the newspaper’s records request for the names and application materials of six finalists for president.

Lawyers for the Board of Regents filed a notice of appeal late Friday, requesting the Colorado Court of Appeals rule on whether the District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones erred in ordering CU to release the records.

Friday was the district court-ordered deadline to release the records. The board’s lawyers had already requested and received a two-week extension of the initial deadline.

The CU system also filed a motion for partial stay late Friday, requesting that the district court stay Jones’ order to release one of the names and application materials withheld from the Camera.

The board voted to appeal the ruling along party lines, with Republican regents John Carson, Chance Hill, Heidi Ganahl, Glen Gallegos and Sue Sharkey voting in favor and Democratic regents Jack Kroll, Irene Griego, Linda Shoemaker and Lesley Smith voting against.

The board met over Zoom and did not take public comment during the meeting.

The Camera’s parent company, Prairie Mountain Media, plans to defend the district court ruling through the appeal process.

“Quite frankly I am surprised that the Regents would waste the money to appeal a case where the judge’s opinion was so solidly in the favor of the Daily Camera,” said Al Manzi, president and CEO of Prairie Mountain Media. “We feel strongly that we have to continue to respond to the appeal as we demand the transparency that is so clear in this matter.”

Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, also said he is hopeful that the Court of Appeals will view the case the same way the district court did.

“(Jones) saw it as a very clear violation of the open records law and that the university was supposed to name and provide the applications for up to six more finalists than it did,” Roberts said. “We’ve always seen the law that way and the Denver judge affirmed that, so I’m hopeful that the higher courts will do the same.”

Regents also cited transparency while explaining their votes for or against the appeal.

Before voting against the appeal, Griego said the university system needs to focus on the coronavirus pandemic and protecting students, faculty and staff.

“I believe the court’s decision is in the best interest of the people of Colorado,” Griego said. “Transparency is critical to maintain and hold public officials accountable. In my opinion, the appeal to the district court’s decision undermines transparency in our democracy.”

Instead of appealing the ruling, Griego said, the board should review and clarify its policies to give future boards better guidance on the presidential search process.

Gallegos, who voted in favor of the appeal, said the Board of Regents is not opposed to transparency but must maintain its autonomy in order to make the best decisions about selecting a leader.

“We do not want the courts to make that decision or to impose arbitrary numbers on finalists,” Gallegos said.

The Board of Regents vote to seek an appeal came exactly one year after they voted unanimously to name President Mark Kennedy the sole finalist to replace retiring President Bruce Benson.

As a finalist, Kennedy was criticized by CU faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and donors for his voting record as a Republican congressman representing Minnesota and for his tenure as president of the University of North Dakota.

Kennedy was hired on a party-line vote in May, and the Board of Regents denied records requests from the Camera in May and June for the names and application materials of other finalists interviewed for the job, stating that the Colorado Open Records Act allows the board to name a sole finalist.

CORA only requires public entities to disclose candidates that are considered finalists for a job, not all applicants.

The Camera filed its lawsuit asking the court to compel the university to release the names and application materials of the six finalists on Sept. 30.

The CU System released the application materials for five of the finalists on Friday, stating that those names were already publicly reported. They are Deba Dutta, chancellor of Rutgers University; Robert Engle, former president of CoBank; Kerry Healey, president of Babson College; Michael Young, president of Texas A&M University; and Kennedy.

The five were among a leaked list of 30 candidates for system president published by the Colorado Independent in December.

The Independent did not publish three names, including one name who was among the six finalists, in an agreement with system leaders. Releasing the information now would cause “irreparable harm” to the university, according to the motion filed Friday.

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.