Newspaper considering appeal after judge rules police records should remain closed

MICHIGAN -- A county circuit court yesterday denied the student newspaper at Michigan State University access to a campus police incident report about an assault that took place in February.

The State News filed a lawsuit May 19 demanding access to the report, which contained information about an assault in one of the campus residence halls allegedly involving a handgun. The lawsuit came after the university denied two separate Freedom of Information Act requests the paper had filed.

The State News had asked the court for an expedited ruling because of the timeliness of the issue.

Editor in chief Nick Mrozowski said the judge denied the newspaper access to the report because she ruled that those involved in the case were private individuals and the information recorded was of a personal nature. The court did not issue a written decision in the case.

''It's obviously not how I would have liked for it to end in the court,'' Mrozowski said. ''I mean, I don't think that crime is a private thing. I think when there is crime on campus, I don't see how that's not a public event and something that the public has more than just an interest in, but a stake in, because it's something that affects them.''

But university spokesman Terry Denbow said the ruling was a demonstration of the court's commitment to protecting student's privacy rights.

''We think that this was a validation of our position related to the principles that guide the integrity of a police investigation and the principles of rights to privacy,'' Denbow said.

Herschel Fink, attorney for

The State News, said the newspaper will most likely file an appeal, although the final decision has not been made.

''I've discussed it with the [chairperson] of the journalism school, and we're going to talk again on Monday, but her feeling was that she wanted to appeal it, and I think we should,'' Fink said.

Marty Sturgeon, The State News general manager, said the newspapers' board of directors will meet June 23 to officially decide whether to appeal. The chair of the journalism school, Jane Briggs-Bunting, is also the president of the board of directors.

Fink said he thinks the newspaper got a ''bad draw'' in the original case because the judge was a former prosecutor and police officer in Ingham County. According to a

State News article, the newspaper had originally filed suit in nearby Oakland County, but a judge there ruled that the case should be heard in Ingham County, where the university is located.

Fink said he expects the lower court's decision to be overturned on appeal.

''She [the judge] said the public has no right to see police incident reports about crime in their community, and I think frankly that it's an outrageously wrong reading of the law,'' he said.

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