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Zoeller moves to strike Ritz’s suit against Board of Education

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Attorney General Greg Zoeller Thursday asked a court to throw out a lawsuit filed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz against the Indiana Board of Education.

The AG’s office filed a motion to strike and asked Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg to set a hearing on its request. Zoller argues Ritz’s suit brought by Department of Education attorneys Bernice A.N. Corley and Michael G. Moore is barred by statute. Ritz, a Democrat, alleges in the suit that board members appointed by Republican governors acted illegally to strip her office of oversight of the A-F school-grading system.

The system adopted under Ritz’s predecessor, Republican Tony Bennett, was widely criticized after the discovery of emails indicating the department under Bennett’s leadership improved the grades of charter schools connected to campaign donors.

The motion from Zoeller, a Republican, cites I.C. 4-6-2-1 that provides the AG “shall prosecute and defend all suits that may be instituted by or against the state of Indiana.”

“Without the consent of the Attorney General, no state official may hire or utilize private counsel to represent herself in an official capacity suit,” the motion claims. “…Therefore, as Chair of the Indiana State Board of Education and Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, the representation of Plaintiff Ritz’s legal interests lies exclusively in the hands of the Attorney General,” the filing says.

Ritz’s suit claims the actions of board members, including drafting a letter to Republican legislative leaders to advocate for changing who’s in charge of school grades, violated Indiana’s Open Door law. The filing by the AG’s office makes no reference to the allegations in Ritz’s suit.

“Attorney General Zoeller noted that his office has not taken sides on the Superintendent’s Open Door Law complaint or on the underlying policy disagreement” between Ritz and the board of education, the AG’s office said in a statement.

“For purposes of this motion filed today, the Attorney General does not represent the 10 individual board members, but rather state government itself and he is asserting that legal authority.  The Attorney General will monitor any related legal matters that might arise and represent state interests as needed,” the statement said.

As of Thursday afternoon, no hearings had been scheduled in the case.

Zoeller's motion comes a day after education board member Tony Walker asked the court to dismiss the suit.
 

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