Jan 12, 2011

Editorial board wants activist judges in FOIA witch-hunt case

The Republican controlled editorial board of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus is falling over themselves to blame the non-conservative majority on the Michigan Supreme Court for something they had nothing to do with.

Late last month the Michigan Supreme Court denied an appeal to overturn an appeals court ruling that would have released thousands emails under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Anti-union activist Chet Zarko, who passed away last summer, filed the FOIA in 2007 with the help of teabagger and former Howell School Board member Wendy Day in a fishing expedition to embarrass the teacher’s union. He claimed the emails were sent on district computers during staff time, and they were used to lobby the public during contract negotiations. The district released some emails, but an injunction was issued stopping Zarko from receive any more of the 5,500 emails.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in January of 2010 that the emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between union members were not public record, and they concluded that under the FOIA statute the individual teacher’s personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. They also said this was unexamined ground in the law, and that this is an issue for the Legislature to address.

Apparently, the newspaper does not see the fact that teachers are not a public body or public officials, and that the Supreme Court has to have a reason to overturn a solid decision; let alone take it up.

The editorial board did not see it that way, and they want the Justices to be the activist judges they claim they don’t want.

“In one of the last acts of its short-lived Democratic majority, the Michigan Supreme Court did some potential damage to the public's right to know in a ruling about the privacy of what public employees do on public time with publicly provided communications systems The court ought to reconsider this decision before somebody tries to hide behind it to thwart the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.”
Here is another false claim by the paper, “In the Howell case, the e-mails were requested in a FOIA filed by a resident ... who was concerned about ongoing contract negotiations with the teachers union. The resident has since died, but others are keeping the case alive and will request reconsideration by the Supreme Court, which now has a new justice and a 4-3 Republican majority.”

No, Zarko was an Oakland County resident, and his concern was just to find dirt to embarrass the union. There is a reason the anti-union rightwing think tank Mackinac Center is bankrolling the attorney fees.
What the paper and the Michigan Press Association should be doing is asking lawmakers to address the situation, not ask judges to make new laws.

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