Saturday, November 22, 2003

Now the Courts Get Into the Act

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Saturday, November 22, 2003


Ruling backs law-school board's closed meetings

Of The Patriot-News

Calling it a "difficult case," a Commonwealth Court judge ruled yesterday that the board of governors of The Dickinson School of Law may continue to meet in private, despite claims the closed-door sessions violate the state's open-meeting laws. Commonwealth Court Judge Renee L. Cohn issued her ruling yesterday after a morning filled with arguments from attorneys representing the school, the board of directors, The Patriot-News and The Carlisle Sentinel. Both newspapers have objected to the closed-door sessions.

In announcing her ruling, Cohn, a 1978 Penn State graduate, expressed discomfort with unanswered questions regarding the consequences if she ordered the meetings opened.

Cohn also declined to rule on whether the law school's board of directors qualify as a state agency under the terms of the state's Sunshine Law.

Attorneys for both papers said they would not appeal the decision.

Cohn's husband, Senate President Pro Tem Robert C. Jubelirer, R- Blair, was one of several state legislators who joined Gov. Ed Rendell this week in demanding that Penn State President Graham Spanier publicly state his support for keeping the school in Carlisle.

Earlier this month, information became public that indicated law school officials are considering a move from Carlisle to University Park.

LeRoy Zimmerman, chairman of the law school board, stressed yesterday that he wanted the meeting to remain closed to give board members some give-and-take time with Spanier.

Board members have not heard the specifics of a Penn State offer to build a $60 million campus in State College, and the board is far from making a decision, Zimmerman said.

"As the chairman of the board, I am saying that this is not a done deal," Zimmerman said yesterday.

"It hasn't even been decided that there is a vote," he added.

One board member, G. Thomas Miller, testified on behalf of the newspapers yesterday, but was stopped by Cohn before he could express his opinion on the proposed move.

Zimmerman, who was elected chairman of the board just three weeks ago, said he looks forward to later public meetings.

"I would hope that there would be meetings involving the public because they're important," said Zimmerman, a former state attorney general.

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