Judge tosses college tuition suit


Published: Friday, January 4, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 4, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

A Leon County judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the state Board of Governors to secure its authority to raise university tuition, but the court has left an opening for the board to continue the fight.

In an order issued Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis said the board and a team of high-profile plaintiffs hadn't shown they suffered any "special injury" at the hands of the Legislature and as such didn't have "standing" to bring the suit.

The board, which oversees the state's 11 public universities, was joined in the suit by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey and former Florida State University President Sandy D'Alemberte, among others.

Francis gave the board and fellow plaintiffs 30 days to provide new evidence showing they have standing, and the board has every intention of doing so, officials said.

The Board of Governors, created by a constitutional amendment in 2002, has struggled since its inception to exert the authority many say the amendment affords it. But a key sticking point has been the issue of tuition, which lawmakers say they - not the board - have the authority to set.

"I am disappointed in the judge's ruling that the Board of Governors has not demonstrated standing in this case, but I am grateful that his ruling leaves the door open for the board to show that it does have the right to be heard on these issues," Carolyn Roberts, the board's chairwoman, said in a prepared statement. "I am confident that the Board of Governors will satisfy the concerns expressed in the judge's order."

Board officials wouldn't elaborate on how they might establish standing, but there are several areas that are likely to bolster the argument that the board suffers special injury because of the dispute over its authority. Board members, and the universities they represent, argue that university officials can't make strategic plans because there's uncertainty about how much money will flow into university coffers through tuition.

Sen. Ken Pruitt, the Republican Senate president from Port St. Lucie, released a statement Thursday acknowledging the judge's order won't put an end to the dispute.

"Today's ruling is a victory for students and their families," he said. "However, this is just the first skirmish in a long battle."

Stephen Grimes, an attorney representing Graham and others, said he anticipates his clients will continue their efforts.

"It's an important case," he said, "and frankly I think it's something that should be decided."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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