The Courier Journal reports that Rick Pitino was “very humiliated, very hurt” by his treatment at a June 28 meeting of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. In particular, he was wounded by comments made by Board Vice Chair John Schnatter who, according to the article, participated by video teleconference in a closed session of the board to discuss litigation and personnel matters.
Pitino should take comfort — admittedly modest in the grand scheme — in knowing that his accusers violated the law when they permitted a board member to participate by video teleconference in the closed session.
The fault lies not with Schnatter but with university attorneys, who should have alerted the board to this impropriety.
In September, we reported on an illegal meeting involving Board Chairman David Grissom’s private phone calls to “every trustee to get their take on how best to respond to the recruiting scandal” during the course of which he obtained the trustees’ unanimous support for the president’s decision to suspend both Pitino and Tom Jurich. And in October we criticized a poorly reasoned open meetings decision issued by the attorney general resolving that disputed issue in favor of the university.
Our analysis of the erroneous open meetings decision can be found here.
That open meetings decision centered on a statute prohibiting nonpublic serial less than quorum meetings of public agency members. The issue is currently on appeal in the Jefferson Circuit Court where we hope the complainant will receive a favorable ruling that rejects the attorney general’s strained analysis and discourages statutorily prohibited secret serial meetings.
The June 28 violation centers on a separate statute permitting a public agency to “conduct any meeting, other than a closed session, through video teleconference.” In other words, video teleconferenced open meetings are generally permitted but video teleconferenced close sessions are absolutely not.
Schnatter’s participation in the closed session by video teleconference was expressly prohibited by the Open Meetings Act. The board’s actions therefore violated the law.
Were he so inclined, Pitino might seek additional retribution against the university by pursuing a legal challenge to the Board of Trustees’ open meetings violations in the courts. Although courts lack authority to void actions – including firings — taken in violation of the statute prohibiting video teleconferenced closed sessions, they can void action taken in violation of the statute prohibiting serial less than quorum meetings. Pitino has two credible claims of violations of the Open Meetings Act.
In any case, the University of Louisville’s sloppy open meetings practices expose it to the risk of a successful legal challenge by its former basketball coach and others. This is a wholly unnecessary risk that it can ill afford to take.