Judge dismisses Ritz lawsuit against State Board of Education

2013-11-08T16:30:00Z 2013-12-09T02:24:21Z Judge dismisses Ritz lawsuit against State Board of EducationDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
November 08, 2013 4:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | A Marion County judge ruled Friday that Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction, cannot use her Department of Education attorneys to sue the Republican-appointed State Board of Education.

Judge Louis Rosenberg, a Democrat, said he dismissed Ritz's lawsuit, alleging the education board held an illegal meeting, because Indiana law permits only the attorney general to sue or defend on behalf of the state, unless he gives permission to another attorney.

"The ... statues clearly vest in the attorney general's hands the sole responsibility for the legal representation of the state," Rosenberg said in his nine-page decision.

Ritz said she was "disappointed" by the ruling and hasn't decided whether to file an appeal or take other legal action.

The superintendent sued the board she chairs Oct. 22, claiming it violated Indiana's Open Door Law by drafting and submitting a letter, without her knowledge or public notice, requesting a legislative agency calculate 2011-12 school grades instead of the Department of Education.

The Times has learned Tony Lux, the former Merrillville schools superintendent, filed a complaint Friday with the Indiana public access counselor seeking an investigation of the education board.

The judge's decision did not address Ritz's contention that the board held an illegal meeting. Rosenberg specifically noted Ritz could refile her lawsuit alleging an Open Door violation through Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller, if he approves.

Zoeller has declined to take sides in the matter and said he only sought to strike the appearances of Ritz's attorneys to preserve the exclusive role of his office.

"Now that this question is behind us, we encourage everyone to work to resolve their disputes in a way that respects one another and the state we all serve," Zoeller said.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, blasted Zoeller for refusing to say whether the state education board broke the law. Lanane also castigated the board for undermining the superintendent.

"I believe all parties would benefit from the attorney general's forthright opinion on this matter," Lanane said. "The continued encroachment by the State Board of Education on Superintendent Ritz's statutory authority appears to be a systematic attempt to wrestle control from a constitutionally-mandated officeholder, empowered by a majority of Hoosiers."

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