Thursday, March 27, 2008

Court Finds Trustees Closed Session On Munitz Was Lawful

The California Court of Appeals has ruled against the California Faculty Association (CFA) in its lawsuit alleging the Trustees of the California State University broke California open meeting law by meeting in closed session to discuss Barry Munitz's return to the CSU.

Barry Munitz was appointed Chancellor of the CSU in 1991 and resigned effective January 1998. Under the terms of his original appointment, Munitz had the right to a "trustee professorship" when he resigned as Chancellor. After leaving the CSU, Munitz became president of the nonprofit J. Paul Getty Trust (a.k.a. "the Getty"). Munitz spent Getty funds on lavish travel for himself and his wife while overseeing staff cutbacks. There were allegations of misspent funds and favoritism. When he resigned from the Getty, Munitz agreed to give up a $2 million severence package and repay $250,000. While at the Getty Munitz requested, and the CSU approved, yearly unpaid leaves of absence every April through 2005.

When Munitz decided to return to the CSU, Reed discussed the matter with the Board of Trustees in closed session. According to the court decision, Reed admitted the closed session was prompted by the public relations aspects of Munitz's return. Reed said Munitz had a vested right to return to CSU, and that the University had no choice but to take him back. Munitz was brought back at a salary of $163,776 for the first year, and $112,548 per year after that, for teaching one class at CSU LA. CFA's Munitz Report states the average salary then for CSU LA full professors with 25 years' experience was $88,740.

The Court of Appeals said:

The evidence showed that Reed knew Munitz was returning under a cloud and wanted to explain to the board why Munitz had a vested right to return and respond candidly to any questions the board members might have about the situation. According to Reed, both he and the trustees spoke during the closed sessions, and a candid discussion about the circumstances of Munitz’s return did take place.
The Court speculates on the content of the closed session (which it declined to examine):
It could well include questions about any past allegations of wrongdoing while Munitz served as chancellor, as well as a frank and candid assessment of Munitz’s character and personality in general. All of these would likely rely on personal or hearsay recollections of rumor, innuendo, or speculation. Given the nature of the Getty allegations, the board might well have discussed whether Munitz should be placed in a position that gave him access to or authority over CSU funds, as well as the need to monitor Munitz’s activities after his return.
From Ronnie Grant, CSUEU Vice President for Organizing:
This is a published decision, meaning it sets precedent for future interpretation of the personnel exemption to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. The opinion becomes final in 30 days.

Next steps: Travis may request a rehearing from the Appeals Court or petition the California Supreme Court for review, or any "interested person" may petition the California Supreme Court to "depublish" (remove the precedent status from) the decision. These three options have various filing time limits from 10-30 days.

The case is Travis v. Board of Trustees of the California State University et al, California Court of Appeals, 2nd district, case no. B196907, 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 411.

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