In showdown with UF, co-op gets a small win in court
Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 31, 2006 at 10:41 p.m.
The University of Florida's efforts to close an off-campus student cooperative hit a snag Friday when a local judge nullified an order that had given UF broad authority over the Collegiate Living Organization.
Earlier this month, the university successfully petitioned the court to place its governing board in charge of a trust that gave the CLO its property near campus. But UF did not afford the CLO or its attorney an opportunity to contest the petition, which led Alachua County Circuit Court Judge Toby Monaco to vacate his March 9 order Friday.
The judge's decision opens the door for further debate about whether UF is the rightful trustee, and consequently whether the university even has the authority to shut down the CLO.
"I think the court has made it clear they're not the trustee," said Scott Krueger, the CLO's attorney.
In an effort to help low-income students, the late Joseph Fulk, a UF professor, left the property in a trust to the CLO in 1947. Fulk named the state Board of Education the trustee, but the board is no longer the governing body of the State University System. Hence, UF says its own governing board is now the rightful trustee.
The judge's decision to vacate the order changes nothing, according to Steve Orlando, UF spokesman. The university will still move forward with its lawsuit against the CLO, he said. The suit, filed last week, asks the court to authorize UF to evict the approximately 65 students residing in the CLO building on NW 15th Street. Citing recent facility inspections, UF officials say the building is unsafe and needs to be shut down.
"This (ruling) puts us essentially back to where we were before the judge's order, which means we still consider ourselves the trustee," Orlando said. "So we'll go forward with trying to carry out those responsibilities."
The ruling affords the CLO an opportunity to dispute UF's claim that its board is the rightful trustee. Krueger, the group's lawyer, says he will argue that UF cannot be the trustee in large part because of a conflict of interest. According to Fulk's trust, the trustee must sell the property if the CLO is shut down, steering all proceeds toward loans for students in UF's College of Education. That gives UF a dog in the fight, according to Krueger, which makes the university unfit to function as a neutral trustee.
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