Student Newspaper v. Student Government: Round Two

March 24, 2009

MONTCLAIR - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced its second lawsuit on behalf of the student newspaper The Montclarion, which was denied the minutes of a closed-session meeting of the Student Governing Association (SGA) that it requested earlier this year through the Open Public Meetings Act.

"The SGA decides which student organizations receive funds and which do not, and that grants it an enormous amount of power," explained Montclarion Editor-in-Chief Bobby Melok. "The students and the newspaper need to know how decisions are made - otherwise accountability is impossible."

The Open Public Meetings Act requires organizations to disclose information about their meetings if the organizations are empowered to spend government money or perform government functions that affect people's rights. Although incorporated as a private entity, the SGA is empowered by Montclair State University, a public school, to make decisions to fund student organizations. In that capacity, the SGA effectively acts as an arm of the public university.

The ACLU-NJ's lawsuit asserts that the SGA violated the Open Public Meetings Act when it improperly went into closed session on February 4, 2009, and then when it then failed to provide The Montclarion with sufficient information regarding that closed session.

"Students have a right to hold the SGA accountable and observe its decision making," said ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney Bobby Conner, who is representing The Montclarion. "You can't have democracy without transparency."

The ACLU-NJ successfully resolved a matter for The Montclarion last year in another tussle with the SGA. The Montclarion contacted a lawyer who investigated the SGA's violations of the Open Public Meetings Act - clearly an ongoing problem - and refused to turn the attorney's correspondence over to the SGA when the SGA demanded it. In retaliation, the SGA froze the paper's funding. The Montclarion successfully re-secured its funding, and with the help of the ACLU-NJ went independent in November of 2008.

The case is captioned Montelican Publishing, Inc. v. Student Government Association of Montclair State University. The case was filed Friday, March 20, 2009, in Superior Court in Essex County.

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