Chetly Zarko was the plaintiff in a FOIA disagreement with the Howell education association. Zarko wanted access to public records (emails) that were on the school system’s computers through the Freedom of Information process, and was denied. Although Zarko passed away earlier this year, the case continued. As I had posted before:
The joint brief was filed in the case of Zarko v. Howell Education Association, in which political commentator Chetly Zarko filed a FOIA request for e-mails sent on the district’s e-mail system to and from three union officers who taught in the Howell Public Schools and an HEA official. These officials exchanged thousands of e-mails on school computers over a three-month span during a period of collective bargaining negotiations. Zarko filed the FOIA request to determine if tax-funded lobbying was occurring and if the school e-mail system was truly being used for legitimate educational purposes.
The information Zarko sought had to do with Union organizing activities that were being planned on school time and with school resources. The failure to produce the emails which are subject to the FOIA resulted in the lawsuit being filed originally.
Now from the Mackinac center Legal Foundation:
Michigan Supreme Court Denies Appeal of Disastrous Lower Court Decision in Freedom of Information Act Case
‘The court’s failure to respond cripples the state Freedom of Information Act and shields government officials who break the law from public scrutiny,’ says Mackinac Center lawyer, co-author of joint brief with Michigan Press Association in case
MIDLAND — In a 4-3 vote late yesterday, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in a key case concerning the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, prompting Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Director Patrick J. Wright to observe, “The court’s failure to respond cripples the state Freedom of Information Act and shields government officials who break the law from public scrutiny.” The case involved a citizen’s FOIA request to review e-mails sent by school employees on a school district’s e-mail system, and in January 2010, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied the request. This ruling was subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the appeal was joined in a friend of the court brief co-authored by Wright and the Michigan Press Association’s Robin Luce Herrmann.
“A Supreme Court hearing in this case is vital,” Wright observed. “Just consider what the Court of Appeals’ ruling condoned. It effectively said that a school employee can sign onto a school district computer system provided at public expense, read a warning that clearly states that anything on the system can be monitored and copied, and then go to court to prevent e-mails written and sent on that system from being reviewed by citizens who are concerned that the employee used the e-mails to break the law. This is awful. Illegal activity by public officials using public resources is precisely what the Freedom of Information Act was meant to expose. The ruling will severely hinder reporters and citizen activists in their role as government watchdogs.”
“We can only hope the Michigan Supreme Court will reconsider this case when the justices reconvene in January,” Wright added. While granting such a reconsideration is unusual, it is not impossible in such an important dispute, Wright noted. “Given the media interest in this case and how regularly citizens make use of the law, a state Supreme Court hearing is appropriate.”
Whether a motion for reconsideration will be filed has yet to be determined. The initial FOIA request was submitted in March 2007.