Associated Press State and Local Wire

Court to consider Mackinac Center appeal to dismiss MEA suit

LANSING, Mich. – The state Court of Appeals will consider a conservative think tank's request that it dismiss a lawsuit filed against the think tank by the state's largest teachers' union, the court said in an order released Monday.

The Michigan Education Association sued the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy last year after the center quoted the association's president in a fund-raising letter.

The court's decision to consider the Mackinac Center's request means the trial set for May 12 has been delayed pending the outcome of the appeal. In December, a lower court ordered the case to trial.

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The Washington-based Institute for Justice, which represents the Mackinac Center, filed the appeal in January.

The quote from association President Lu Battaglieri appeared in a letter sent to supporters of the Mackinac Center.

The fund-raising letter, which is no longer being used, said: "This fall, Luigi Battaglieri ... stated, 'Frankly, I admire what the Mackinac Center has done.' Mr. Battaglieri, whose union is generally at odds with the Mackinac Center, said this with respect to how Mackinac Center research has shaped education reform in Michigan and around the nation."

The MEA and the Mackinac Center, which supports free market economic policies, have long been at odds over education reform issues such as charter schools and private school vouchers, which the Mackinac Center supports and the MEA largely opposes.

Clark Neily, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, said the issue shouldn't have been sent to a jury trial because the facts aren't in dispute.

Neily said he hopes the appeals court dismisses what he called a "baseless attack on the Mackinac Center's right of free expression."

MEA spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley said the appeals court process just reverses the sequence of events in the case.

"We'll continue pursuing our side of the case. We believe the case is very valid," she said.

Copyright 2003 by the Associated Press.