Jan 27, 2010

Court of Appeals rules against anti-union activist in favor of teachers in e-mail case

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled today on the case involving a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) for some 5,500 emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between union members were not public record and therefore subject to public disclosure.

The three-Judge panel issued their ruling after taking oral briefs on Jan. 5, saying, “We believe this question is one that must be resolved by the Legislature, and we call upon the
Legislature to address it, we conclude that under the FOIA statute the individual plaintiffs’ personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory.”

The case came about when rightwing blogger and anti-union activist Chet Zarko went on a fishing expedition in May of 2007 when he submitted a FOIA request in cahoots with Howell school board member Wendy Day to find dirt to embarrass the union with. He accused the HEA of abusing taxpayer-funded resources to promote union causes, but the district said the union had a recognized right to use the computers and email.

In October of 2008 Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille determined that the e-mails written by union leaders on school computers are public record, and subject to disclosure. The HEA filed suit in Livingston County Circuit to stop the disclosure because both the district and the union had a “recognized right” to use the email system. Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille determined that they should be released, prompting the HEA to appeal.

Although the suit was against HPS, Zarko was a party to the suit. It remains to be seen if he will appeal.


Chetly Zarko said...

We're all entitled to due process and the process on this issue hasn't ended, so nothing remains to be seen. I'm you know the answer to whether I'll appeal.

Regardless, I remind you yet another time and your readers that you are libelously (though I choose not to waste my time on the due process I could avail myself on in that area) misstating facts about my non-relationship with Ms. Day. I had never met or communicated with Ms. Day prior to or during the response to this FOIA so I could not have been in "cahoots" with her during the time frame you allege, despite its ultimate irrelevance to the question of whether the public should be able to access the records its paid employees create on public computers knowing the records are supposed to be used only for educational purposes.

Labrador Blue Dog said...

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted in order to give the public the right to know the workings of government. It was not enacted to openly display for all the internal communications of Unions.

The ruling today is exactly what should have happened in the first place- neither private, personal messages nor internal Union communications are "the workings of government". They are not fair game for public disclosure, just because it happens to be on a publicly owned server. No more than a note home to a spouse about picking up milk on the way home.

A hundred years ago, government employees were not allowed to have a telephone on their desk, for fear that someone might make an telephone call. All calls had to be made from the supervisor's work area, so the boss could hear what you were saying.

Thank goodness more intelligent minds prevailed in this case today, ensuring that at least some common sense is applied. Changes in technology happen all the time, and just because your cellphone can text a message, or can send an e-mail, it doesn't mean that everyone everywhere should be able to see it.

FOIA public workings of government? Yes.

But the private e-mails of someone who happens to be a public employee? An e-mail that has nothing to do with how government works? No way.

At least now we have some common sense being applied.

That's what we really need from government today- common sense. Thank you Court of Appeals for applying it with your ruling today.

Communications guru said...

Of course you will appeal. I’m not sure how because Howell Public Schools is the primary defendant, and I don’t want my tax dollars wasted on a union-busting fishing expedition. But I’m sure the new The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation will fund your witch hunt; after all, they are on a union-busting bent with going after home health care workers. Your original reason for submitting the FOIA, to find out of taxpayer-funded lobbying was occurring, has been proven false, but we both know it’s just to embarrass and attack the union.

For it to be “libelous” what I have written has to be false, and it’s not. You have access to lawyers, so sue if you like. What I wrote about you and Day is correct. Hell, its common knowledge. You should read the comments on the story in the Press & Argus.

Communications guru said...

Thanks Blue Dog, I could not agree with you more.