Former Michigan Daily editor files lawsuit against newspaper, university

A former Michigan Daily news editor has filed a lawsuit against theUniversity of Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, theUniversity of Michigan, and three current and former Michigan Daily editors after being accused of plagiarism.

According to the lawsuit,Julie Rowe has lodged multiple claims against the defendants and seeks damages,costs and interest in excess of $25,000 per claims. The claims includedefamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and denial ofsubstantive and procedural due process rights.

The accusation of plagiarism was a result of Rowe’s article, published on Feb. 1, 2009, in the paper’s weekly “In Ivory Towers”column — a compilation of college news across the U.S. from outside newssources. Former editor-in-chief Gary Graca posted an editor’s note on March 4,2009linking it to Rowe’s article, saying although the article cited sources, “itinappropriately took complete sentences and phrases verbatim from them withoutusing quotes. This implied the material was paraphrased when, in fact, it wasnot.”

The Michigan Daily is a student-run newspaper and is financiallyindependent from the University of Michigan.

The suit claims the university is obligated to oversee The MichiganDaily, and “failed to do so thus endorsing and sanctioning the wrongfultreatment of [Rowe].”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said theuniversity is not responsible for making editorial decisions on behalf of thenewspaper.

“Leaving aside the merits of the underlying allegations…constitutionally, a public university couldn’t stop the editor of a publicationfrom firing one of his subordinates, even if they wanted to. That’s a corematter of editorial discretion that belongs to the editor as a matter of law,”he said.

The suit alleges that three Michigan Daily editors falsely accusedRowe of plagiarism: Graca; Courtney Ratkowiak, former managing editor andcurrent columnist for The Michigan Daily, and Jacob Smilovitz, formermanaging news editor and current editor-in-chief.

Rowe resigned from her position as senior news editor in March after theaccusation and took a leave of absence from the university. According to ArthurButler, a Plymouth-based attorney representing Rowe, she has returned to theuniversity this semester.

Butler declined to discuss details of the case, but said that Rowe hopes tobe made whole again.

Attorney Herschel Fink of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP in Detroitwill be representing The Michigan Daily, Graca, Ratkowiak and Smilovitz.

By Nicole Ocran, SPLC staff writer