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Leader Editorial

A win for government secrecy; a loss for liberty

January 05, 2011 - Those in government who seek to hide what they say and do from the public won a significant victory last week.

Those who seek to expose wrongdoing, corruption and waste in government suffered a momentous defeat.

In a 4-3 vote Dec. 29, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in a key case concerning the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

The case involved a citizen's FOIA request to review e-mails sent by school employees on the Howell school district's e-mail system. The initial request was submitted in March 2007.

In January 2010, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied the request. The ruling was subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has now flatly refused to hear the case.

We are amazed that an institution designed to interpret the law and protect the rights of citizens chose to take a pass on hearing this vital case.

Exactly what are we paying these justices to do? We realize many judges are just lazy or unsuccessful lawyers looking to collect a steady paycheck, but this is ridiculous.

Everyone from journalists to average citizens routinely use FOIA as their primary weapon in the never-ending struggle to keep government open, honest and accountable.

The Supreme Court's indifference in this case coupled with the Court of Appeals' original ruling has effectively replaced the people's sword of freedom with a dinky cap gun. We can still make a lot of noise, but we won't actually strike our targets.

We're not judges nor are we lawyers, but we do know that e-mails sent by public employees over a computer system paid for by the taxpayers are by no means private and they should never be classified as such.

We the people bought the computers.

We the people pay for the operation and maintenance of them.

We the people have a right to see whatever government employees put on those computers or use that system for.

Case closed.

If government employees don't want people to read what they're writing, let them use their private e-mail accounts and their personal computers to communicate. And let them do it on their own time.

Shame on the Court of Appeals for its ignorant and dangerous ruling.

Shame on the state Supreme Court for just sitting on its hands as citizens get stripped of their rights.

Who needs to worry about terrorists or the Chinese depriving us of our liberties when our own court system seems content to do the job for them. CJC

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