Michigan State newspaper expects Eastern Michigan situation to help lawsuit

MICHIGAN — News that the president of Eastern Michigan University was dismissed Sunday after the school violated federal safety laws may help the student newspaper at Michigan State University get access to campus police records it requested in March 2006.

Herschel Fink, an attorney representing the State News, said the paper has been involved in a legal dispute for police incident reports detailing an on-campus assault since May 2006 and the matter now awaits a ruling from the state supreme court.

In light of the alleged homicide cover-up that cost EMU President John Fallon his position, Fink said he may submit additional information to the supreme court.

Fink said the EMU president was terminated because the school violated the federal Jeanne Clery Act, which requires public institutions that receive federal funding to disclose information about campus crimes. He called MSU’s denials of record requests “very similar lapses.”

“We think that case has application to the MSU case,” Fink said. He added that he thinks MSU has violated the Clery Act, in addition to the state Freedom of Information Act.

The State News‘ case began in May 2006 when the university president denied the paper’s request under the state Freedom of Information Act for records pertaining to the arrest of three men in connection with an alleged assault that occurred in Hubbard Hall, a student dormitory. The school cited privacy and law-enforcement-purpose exemptions and denied the paper’s request in its entirety.

A trial court ruled in June 2006 that the university had met its burden to show that the requested records were exempt from disclosure and dismissed the case.

But in March 2007, the Court of Appeals of Michigan remanded the case and ordered that the lower court determine whether there are nonexempt portions of the incident report that can be separated from exempt material and released, according to a 14-page decision.

Before a trial judge could make that determination, the university filed with the state supreme court an application for leave to appeal the decision made by the court of appeals. The court’s decision could take “many months,” Fink said.