Backstory on the UM Board of Regents Open Meetings Act lawsuit

Submitted by iawolve on February 19th, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Strangely enough, I just had this discussion with a newspaper editor who has a similar lawsuit against a B10 school’s BoR to get information from a closed door meeting. I thought they made sense to share in light of the recent lawsuit against the UM. A few points to consider in regards to this story:

First, it is typical of a newspaper to initiate such lawsuits since they want information for a particular story they are writing. It is unusual for an individual to initiate this type of lawsuit unless there is an existing dispute or other litigation that is dependent on gaining access to the information from the meeting.

Second, it is “illegal” for the BoR to hold closed door meetings without minutes available to the public. Only illegal that a judge may force them to make the data public, not that anyone goes to jail. However, there are certain procedures for meeting classification, use of legal counsel, session breaks and adjournment techniques that gives the BoR some loopholes to work through to have private sessions which leads me to point 3.

Third, a winner in this lawsuit would get access to the information and reimbursement for attorney fees. However, these cases can last months (my contact mentioned legal fees had exceeded $40k for one case) and the reason a singular person may not pursue this for the “freedom of information”. Also, it is possible a judge may not rule in your favor due to opinion on if the procedures where properly followed and you are simply out the money with no access to the meeting minutes. Again, if I have other litigation pending, maybe I take the chance. If not, I would be an idiot since, even if I believe I am 100% right, I risk that a judge does not see my side of the case. I am also either representing myself or have a lawyer doing some pro-bono work since I would not want to bankroll this.

Having just heard a significant amount of information on this type of lawsuit from my newspaper editor contact, I am curious to understand the real motivations here. I struggle with the idea that a random person who reportedly loves the program and is only motivated by that he “…hopes and prays the university officials follow the rules…”. Dunno, seems strange to me, but it also made a nice story in the F***p who would seem to benefit the most from this lawsuit. Don’t know why they would not be the one to initiate it.

Comments

Zone Left

February 19th, 2010 at 12:38 PM ^

Yeah, the whole thing seems really weird. By the time any litigation actually happens, the info will have been publicly announced by the school and the NCAA.

The bottom line is this--Michigan is going to have to spend some of its money responding to a FOIA suit for information that will be public shortly.

My no inside info take is that this guy has some issues with not getting what he wants and is willing to waste time and money to get the info.

Don

February 19th, 2010 at 12:44 PM ^

He has already filed a bunch of suits against UM on other issues, and since he's a local Highland Park politician with ambitions to go higher, I think it's likely he's simply using these suits as a means of generating publicity for himself. The Freep is only too happy to "report" on what he's doing.

Section 1

February 19th, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

If you look at Michigan court records, there are scads of these lawsuits. There are even scads of reported opinions from the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the Michigan Supreme Court.

And yes, they are routinely press-oriented lawsuits. So you will see, for instance, at least a handful of cases captioned as "Booth Newspapers v. Regents of the University of Michigan."

As a historical matter, some of the biggest fights in the whole history of the Michigan Open Meetings Act have been with university regents, particularly in relation to university-President selections. Those cases (there have been several) were so contentious, with such strong arguments on both sides, that the Act was amended to carve out an exception for university-President selection meetings. (Pretty hard to confidentially interview top candidates and still make them "open meetings.")

In the other thread I started on yesterday's lawsuit and the immediate (!?) story that followed it in the Free Press, I mentioned the Granholm-Democrat-Stapleton-Davis connection. Nobody really questioned me about, which kind of surprised me. If they had, I might not have had a good answer; only more questions.

I'd be asking; do Davis and Stapleton know each other? I'd be amazed if they didn't. But I don't know. Do they have any other institutional connections? I am not aware of any, but it remains a question. We know that Davis is a political climber; whose political interest might this lawsuit be serving? Is it true, as I supect (but only suspect) that Davis filed this lawsuit, and then immediately called the Free Press? Did he talk to the Free Press about filing the lawsuit before drafting the complaint?

Don, above, suggests that Davis "has already filed a bunch of suits against UM on other issues." But I don't know if that is true. Davis has an extensive lawsuit history in Wayne County, as noted in newspaper accounts. Lawsuits including suits for information and disclosure against Highland Park city officials and also against other school board members, on public accountability matters.

But I don't know that the guy has filed any other actions against the University of Michigan.

Truly, I don't know about a possible Stapleton connection. That is at least one subject on which I'd like to get more information.