Judge to decide soon if Ritz can sue board with own attorneys


By Lesley Weidenbener

INDIANAPOLIS – A judge could decide as early as Friday whether to dismiss a lawsuit that state Superintendent Glenda Ritz has filed against 10 members of the Board of Education she chairs.

Indiana Deputy Attorney General David Arthur, left, and other lawyers from the attorney general office leave a Marion County Circuit courtroom Tuesday after a hearing in a lawsuit filed by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Arthur argued Ritz doesn't have the authority to use her own attorneys for teh suit. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

Lawyers from the Indiana attorney general’s office leave a hearing Tuesday after a hearing on a lawsuit filed by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. The attorney general’s office argued Ritz doesn’t have the authority to use her own attorneys for the suit. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg said he’d give time for Ritz’s attorneys to file additional arguments in the case before he ruled on Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s request that he throw out the suit.

Zoeller says that he’s the only attorney who can represent a state office holder, agency or government commission in court. Ritz used attorneys in her office to file the suit. One of those attorneys – Michael Moore – told the court Tuesday that’s an exception allowed by law.

But although Rosenberg didn’t make an immediate decision, the judge hinted Tuesday that Ritz’s attorneys have a high hurdle to clear in winning their argument.

Rosenberg said he didn’t “see a distinction between” the current case and a previous one involving a former governor and what was then the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission. In that case, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that only the attorney general could represent the governor.

Deputy Attorney General David Arthur agreed on Tuesday, telling the court that Ritz “is not entitled to hire counsel to represent her.”

The focus of Tuesday’s hearing was on the role of the attorney general in representing state officials in court. The question is whether it’s an option or an exclusive responsibility.

There was no discussion in court about the underlying lawsuit, which accuses 10 members of the State Board of Education – who were all appointed by Republican governors – of violating the state’s Open Door Law by taking official action without meeting in public for a debate and vote.

The lawsuit followed a letter the board members signed last month that asked GOP legislative leaders to have the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency calculate A-F school grades, even before the Department of Education had finished working on the data.

Ritz’s spokesman, Daniel Altman, would not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. But Ritz has previously said that the Department of Education is working diligently on the school grades and that the board should not have asked lawmakers to intervene without a public discussion and vote.

Zoeller has said he’s not taking sides in the underlying dispute. In a statement Tuesday, he said the only issue before the court now is “whether an attorney can represent the state of Indiana without the consent of the attorney general. “

“My office is not adverse to any of our clients but we are only defending the well-established case law that helps avoid the disputes in the Statehouse from coming before the judicial branch of government,” Zoeller said.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.