Legal battle ends with victory for newspaper access

MICHIGAN — A newspaper received access to records relating to the sexual misconduct of a school employee in February after a year-long court battle.A judge’s decision to grant Heritage Newspapers, owner of the Melvindale News-Herald, which is circulated in southeastern Michigan, access to the documents was upheld when an appellate court denied an appeal requested by James Hall, the employee of Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Schools whose records were in question.Allegations of sexual misconduct against Hall became public after parents complained to the board of education in early 1997, according to the Melvindale News-Herald.The school district, which had been trying to conduct its own investigation, requested the files from the police department.Heritage Newspapers filed suit for access to the same records made available to the school. Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper argued that it had access to the public records just as much as the school district or any member of the community.A lower court judge ruled June 17, 1997, that the records must be given to the newspaper.Hall’s request for review to the court of appeals was denied Feb. 19. The records were released the next week.Hall has since retired from the school district with full benefits.