SA’s motion to dismiss denied

By Keith Hernandez

DeKALB — A motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the Student Association Senate alleging an Open Meetings Act violation was denied Friday, continuing an almost year-long legal dispute.

Judge Bradley Waller of the 23rd Judicial Circuit Court allowed proceedings to continue, although former SA Senator Leon Kincaid did not file his complaint within 60 days following the alleged violations, a requirement stated in the Open Meetings Act. According to a reply in opposition to the motion to dismiss, there was probable cause to believe a violation would occur after the complaint was filed April 29 with the ushering in of newly elected senators.

An alleged 1998 SA Senate bill amended the SA bylaws so the organization was subject to the Open Meetings Act, but the bill did not appear to have been introduced into the bylaws the following year. SA officials said they doubted the validity of the bill in question because of the wording, and the section it amended did not exist, according to an April 21, 2003, Northern Star article cited in Kincaid’s reply.

The SA Senate passed legislation Oct. 23 that required senators to complete Open Meetings Act training in accordance with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, but SA Speaker Christine Wang has since declined to comment on whether the SA Senate is subject to the act. The motion to dismiss was filed nearly three weeks later.

The alleged violations occurred before and during a nine-hour closed-session meeting Nov. 22, 2015, in which the SA Senate voted not to impeach former Vice President Reggie Bates, according to court documents.

Final action cannot be taken during closed meetings for all organizations that fall under the Open Meetings Act, according to legislation.

The other violation refers to a Nov. 23, 2015, Northern Star editorial in which Dillon Domke, former SA Senate speaker, and Timothy Brandner, former SA Senate sergeant-at-arms, are paraphrased as saying the SA Senate is not a public body under the Open Meetings Act and therefore does not have to adhere to the law.

“The Student Association, whether you’re a political science major or not, is an opportunity to practice government,” Kincaid said. “Since we’re in an educational environment, we should be practicing the way we intend to use that knowledge in the future; so if you start practicing government in a manner that is not transparent, you’re going to create that habit down the road.”

In the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the SA Senate denied it violated the Open Meetings Act and claimed there is no reason for the lawsuit to continue because the SA Senate passed legislation requiring senators to receive training on the law.

Joe Lovelace, the attorney representing the SA, did not return a request for comment.

Frank LaMonte, Student Press Law Center director, said the outcome of the lawsuit could affect student governments at other public universities in Illinois if the judge rules that a violation has occurred.

“There have been very few court cases or few interpretations of any kind about the status of student government bodies, so the outcome of this case could be very influential,” LaMonte said. “We’re pretty convinced that the student government association is an actual government body for open records and open meetings purposes, but it’s rare that you actually get a court to say so.”

A status hearing is scheduled for June 9.