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October 24, 2013

Zoeller: Department of Education lawyers can't represent Ritz in suit

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller stepped into the state's escalating education battle Thursday, saying that Department of Education lawyers cannot represent state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz in her lawsuit against members of the State Board of Education.

Ritz sued the other 10 members of the state board Tuesday, claiming they "collectively over-stepped their bounds" when they requested the General Assembly's bill-drafting arm calculate the "A-F" school grades for the 2012-2013 school year. Ritz claims in the suit the board violated Indiana's open meeting laws when it went behind her to make the request.

But Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin called Ritz's lawsuit "unauthorized and invalid" because the attorney general acts as the lawyer for state officials. Should it move forward, it would put Zoeller's office in the strange position of being required to represent both sides.

"As the lawyer for state government and the State's chief legal officer, the Attorney General has sole legal authority to represent state officials and agencies in court or to permit outside counsel to do so," Corbin said in a statement.

Zoeller's filing is the latest twist in an increasingly tangled and acrimonious fight over the direction of education in Indiana. Zoeller, a statewide elected official, argues that a separately elected official, Ritz, overstepped by using state lawyers to file the suit. Meanwhile Ritz said Thursday she would consider Zoeller's offer to mediate her dispute with the members of the very board she chairs.

The other 10 board members, all appointed by Republican governors, argued in an Oct. 16 letter that she has been dragging her feet releasing the school grades. Ritz's staff has said it will not get the data needed to calculate the grades until Nov. 5 because of delays throughout the year.

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