Judge throws out illegal immigrant tuition case

A Montgomery County judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a conservative foundation demanding that a Montgomery County community college end its practice of offering in-county tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

A spokeswoman for Montgomery College, which has campuses in Rockville, Takoma Park and Germantown, told The Baltimore Sun last year that the school's policy is to offer the reduced tuition rate to anyone who can demonstrate that he or she lives in Montgomery County or graduated from a public high school there within the past three years.


Washington-based Judicial Watch, which describes itself as a conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation, said the practice violates state and federal law.

The organization filed its lawsuit in Circuit Court in January, after Maryland Del. Patrick L. McDonough said an audit of Montgomery College suggested the cost to taxpayers might have topped $2 million for about 11,000 credit hours during the 2009-10 academic year, as the state was struggling with a budget shortfall.


The college spokeswoman responded at the time that the 11,000 credit hours cited in the audit represented students who did not provide information beyond address or local high school diploma. She said the number was not used in determining state funding; she said the two-year college complies with the law.

But the tuition break appeared to defy a 2006 by then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who told the Prince George's County Community College Board of Trustees that it "lacks the authority to waive the out-of-county tuition rates for undocumented aliens."

Judge Marielsa A. Bernard threw the Judicial Watch complaint out on Tuesday, ruling that the three people named as plaintiffs — Montgomery County residents Michael Lee Phillips, Patricia Fenati and David Drake — lacked the right to bring it.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation passed by the General Assembly this year to extend in-state tuition at Maryland's public colleges and universities undocumented students.

Opponents have petitioned the law to referendum. If their petition survives legal challenges, voters will get the final say on the law in 2012.