‘The court’s failure to respond cripples the state Freedom of Information Act and shields government officials who break the law from public scrutiny,’ says Mackinac Center lawyer, co-author of joint brief with Michigan Press Association in case

For Immediate Release
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010

Contact: Patrick J. Wright
Director, Mackinac Center Legal Foundation
989-631-0900

MIDLAND — In a 4-3 vote late yesterday, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in a key case concerning the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, prompting Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Director Patrick J. Wright to observe, “The court’s failure to respond cripples the state Freedom of Information Act and shields government officials who break the law from public scrutiny.” The case involved a citizen’s FOIA request to review e-mails sent by school employees on a school district’s e-mail system, and in January 2010, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied the request. This ruling was subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the appeal was joined in a friend of the court brief co-authored by Wright and the Michigan Press Association’s Robin Luce Herrmann.

“A Supreme Court hearing in this case is vital,” Wright observed. “Just consider what the Court of Appeals’ ruling condoned. It effectively said that a school employee can sign onto a school district computer system provided at public expense, read a warning that clearly states that anything on the system can be monitored and copied, and then go to court to prevent e-mails written and sent on that system from being reviewed by citizens who are concerned that the employee used the e-mails to break the law. This is awful. Illegal activity by public officials using public resources is precisely what the Freedom of Information Act was meant to expose. The ruling will severely hinder reporters and citizen activists in their role as government watchdogs.”

“We can only hope the Michigan Supreme Court will reconsider this case when the justices reconvene in January,” Wright added. While granting such a reconsideration is unusual, it is not impossible in such an important dispute, Wright noted. “Given the media interest in this case and how regularly citizens make use of the law, a state Supreme Court hearing is appropriate.”

Whether a motion for reconsideration will be filed has yet to be determined. The initial FOIA request was submitted in March 2007.

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