“HISTORIC CASE” AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY AND GMU FOUNDATION MAY GO TO TRIAL
By Dana Nickel, Staff Writer
The second oral hearing for the Transparent GMU lawsuit against the George Mason administration and the GMU Foundation took place last Thursday, Oct. 26.
“This is a historic case,” commented Justice John M. Tran, the judge presiding over the case. Justice Tran commended both the plaintiff and defense lawyers for their well-written arguments in the briefs presented to him.
Evan Johns, Transparent GMU’s lawyer, argued that the documents that his client is petitioning from George Mason and the GMU Foundation are public records, but they are being withheld by a private entity.
In this case, that entity is the George Mason University Foundation, a private corporation created by the administration to handle donations to the school.
“The real danger is in parking the documents,” Johns said in his oral argument to Justice Tran, referring to the files held in private by the GMU Foundation. Johns and the Transparent GMU team are arguing that these documents should be released to the public under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
Transparent GMU alleged that Dr. Janet Bingham, the vice president of the university and the president of the GMU Foundation, has access to these documents but will not release them to the public.
However, the defense countered that Dr. Bingham can separate herself from her position as president of the GMU Foundation to do her job as as the university’s vice president without a conflict of interest.
Mr. Drummey, one of the lawyers representing George Mason and the GMU Foundation, advised that Justice Tran should be wary about parts of the Freedom of Information Act being liberally construed due to the broad nature of the law.
Mr. Hodges, another defense attorney in the case, argued that although the university is a public institution, the GMU Foundation is a separate, private entity that accepts contributions on the school’s behalf. He argued that the university is not a party to these donations or the agreements created with donors by the GMU Foundation.
The next hearing for the case has not yet been scheduled, but Sean Murphy, a representative from the GMU Foundation, requested a schedule form to be prepared for the case to go to trial.
Photo Courtesy of Transparent GMU