School board candidates, supporter sue Utah AG

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 29, 2012, 10:00am


SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) - Two Utah school board hopefuls and a supporter are suing Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in federal court over the state's process for selecting board members.

Plaintiffs Carmen Snow, Carol Murphy and Stacey McGinnis filed their 22-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah Wednesday.

The named defendants include Shurtleff and the Committee for the Recruitment and Nomination of Members of the Utah State Board of Education.

The plaintiffs claim in their lawsuit that the state's current selection process is unconstitutional and, more specifically, is in violation of their civil rights.

According to their court filing, the state school board has 15 elected members. Each member is elected from a different Senate district.

Members serve four-year terms, which are staggered so that different seats come open at each regular general election cycle.

The committee is tasked with reviewing the qualifications of all candidates for membership on the board and selects no fewer than three names for each district subject to election that year.

No later than July 1 of the relevant year, these names are forwarded to the governor.

No later than Aug. 1, the governor selects two to stand for election in each applicable school board district.

If the governor fails to do so by Aug. 31, the committee makes the selections.

Snow, a resident of Washington County, was rejected by the committee as a candidate. McGinnis wanted to vote for Snow. Murphy, who resides in Park City, has been a member of the board for the past four years. She also was rejected by the committee.

Snow alleges that she was rejected because of her affiliation with a group that advocates for public education rather than privatization of education through vouchers.

In the committee's view, the lawsuit alleges, she had "ruffled feathers at the state legislature."

Meanwhile, Murphy contends she was rejected because she has been supportive of public education and opposed to school vouchers and the "privatization of educational efforts" in the state.

"The decision-makers in plaintiffs' case were not impartial; they were infected with the biases inherent in their special interests and the special interests which, as lobbyists and agents, they represented. This bias in fact is built into the statutory structure of committee membership," they wrote.

"This structural defect also is operational when the committee sends names to the governor because, as a member of a partisan political party, his selection judgment also is infected with bias.

"Plaintiffs likewise did not get a fair hearing."

According to the complaint, Shurtleff is being sued in his official capacity because the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the statutes regulating the nomination and designation of candidates for the board are unconstitutional.

In addition to the statutes being declared unconstitutional, the plaintiffs are asking that the committee be enjoined from interpreting and applying them incorrectly in the future -- in particular, when Snow and Murphy seek election again.

All three women are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and attorney fees.

A spokesman for Shurtleff told the Salt Lake Tribune Friday that it was too soon to comment on the lawsuit.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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