Three Salt Lake County residents, backed by the ACLU, have filed a lawsuit against the Utah state senators who recently met in secret to discuss gay clubs in public schools.
Dennis Scott Jolley, Jon Stewart and John R. Taylor filed the action Thursday in 3rd District Court, alleging the senators violated Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act.The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the senators violated three provisions of the open meetings law when they met behind closed doors Jan. 30. The plaintiffs also seek an order permanently prohibiting the Senate from any further violations.
Though the lawsuit does not mention the topic of the secret meeting, the plaintiffs say it is immaterial.
"This is a lawsuit about open government," said Jolley, a teacher at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School. "We'd be equally outraged no matter what they discussed."
"We're looking at lawmakers' breaking the law . . . It has to stop," said ACLU of Utah director Carol Gnade.
However, Taylor, a former Air Force pilot, disclosed that he has a daughter who is a lesbian, and Stewart, a law student, noted that his late father also was homosexual.
Further, the ACLU has led the charge in denouncing any attempts to restrict gay and lesbian clubs on public school campuses.
The issue over gay clubs in Utah schools was raised last month, when some students at East High said they wanted to form such a club. Anti-gay fervor spread quickly, eventually reaching Republican Utah legislators, who began considering ways to keep homosexual clubs off public school campuses.
When the press learned that more than a dozen senators - Republicans and Democrats - met secretly to discuss the topic, gay-rights advocates exploded with anger.
Responding to an earlier ACLU letter, Senate President Lane Beattie wrote the meeting was closed without a formal vote and that no minutes were taken. He said the meeting was held to discuss "threatened litigation in the education area."
ACLU attorney Jensie Anderson said "threatened litigation" is a gray area in the law and would be challenged.
If successful in getting the court to declare the Senate violated the law, the ACLU may try to force depositions of the Senate members to learn more precisely what was discussed in the closed meeting.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, the ACLU and the plaintiffs criticized the Utah attorney general's office for not taking legal action against the senators under the open meetings law.
"By not doing anything, it amounts to an implicit sanction for what (the senators) have done," said Stewart.
Palmer DePaulis, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said he could not comment on the lawsuit.