Student newspaper does not have to turn over riot photos, court rules

MICHIGAN — Eleven media outlets, among them the MichiganState University student newspaper, scored a victory Tuesday whenthe state supreme court unanimously ruled against an East Lansingprosecutor who subpoenaed the media’s footage of a March 1999campus riot.

Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings wanted the video andstill photography of nine TV stations and two newspapers to helpbuild his cases against participants in the riots, which brokeout on the East Lansing campus following MSU’s loss to Duke Universityin the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Citing Michigan statutory law, the court ruled that the mediaoutlets may keep all footage that has never been published orbroadcast. The statute, called the Investigative Subpoena Act,allows law enforcement agencies and officials to subpoena onlymaterial that has already been published or broadcast or materialthat is related to an investigation involving an agent of a newsorganization.

"We win. We win. We win," said an excited Berl Schwartz,adviser and general manager of The State News,MSU’s studentnewspaper.

The victory did not come without a price, though. The Newsrackedup more than $9,200 in legal fees during the battle, which beganin a Michigan trial court and rose through the state court ofappeals before landing in front of the supreme court.

Schwartz expressed frustration over the long battle, whichhe said should have ended before it started, but gained steam"thanks to politicians who rode the popular wrath againstthe riots instead of paying attention to what the law obviouslysaid."

"In the end, a conservative state supreme court that hasnever exhibited much love of the media had to admit, unanimously,that black-letter law is black-letter law," Schwartz said.