Student regent's extension in question
HELENA - The Montana Associated Students of the state university system filed a lawsuit against Gov. Judy Martz and other state officials Friday, claiming she made an illegal appointment to the state Board of Regents.
Martz extended student Regent Christian Hur's appointment by one year in January without giving the Montana Associated Students a chance to submit three nominees for the position, a privilege the law guarantees.
But Martz's spokesman said state law allows the student regent a term ranging from one to four years. Extending Hur's two-year term by a year is not illegal, Chuck Butler said for Martz.
"She's ignoring the law," said Dan Geelan, president of the Montana Associated Students and a senior at Montana State University-Northern in Havre. "We don't want this to become precedent."
Hur was nominated by the Montana Associated Students and appointed by the governor to serve on the Board of Regents beginning in June 2001, when he was a business student at Montana State University-Billings. His term was to expire June 30, 2003.
Now that he's enrolled in law school at the University of Montana, Martz extended his appointment until June 30, 2004. Geelan said his organization didn't even have a chance to submit its nominees for the position before she extended Hur's term.
Both the Senate Administration Committee and the full Senate confirmed Hur's extension this spring. Sen. John Cobb, R-Augusta, chairman of the committee, said the state's independent legislative lawyers confirmed for the committee that the governor's decision to extend Hur's tenure was legal.
However, he added, if a judge finds that the extension of Hur's tenure is technically a reappointment, the students may win the case.
Some people say the governor is sidelining student opinion.
"We were totally left out of the loop," said Jon Swan, a graduating senior at the University of Montana and outgoing president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana.
But not all students agree with the lawsuit filed by the Montana Associated Students, which is an organization of elected student representatives from all the state's campuses.
The Associated Students of the University of Montana, where student Aaron Flint just replaced Swan, is philosophically opposed to the suit.
"We see it as accomplishing nothing for students and a waste of their time," Flint said, adding that the suit is political.
Flint said the problem is a matter for the Legislature, not lawyers. Some say the term of the student regent should be finite, and not allowed to range from one to four years. Flint also called for a new law that requires formal consultation between the governor and student groups regarding the appointment of the student regent.
Geelan said Hur has abandoned the students' agenda as their representative to the Board of Regents and instead supports the governor's education policies. Hur said Monday that he is representing students and chose not to comment further on the case.
Geelan said that even if the students had a regent they had faith in, they would have filed the suit. It's a matter of law, he said.
"We feel it was illegal," Swan said. "The governor's office has a different opinion. We'll just have to let the courts clarify it."
The lawsuit was filed by the Meloy law firm of Helena on behalf of the Montana Associated Students in District Court in Helena on Friday. Other parties named in the lawsuit include all the members of the Senate and Secretary of State Bob Brown.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Courtney Lowery contributed to this story.