Michigan court rules names of ex-cons working in schools public information

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that the Detroit News could publish the names of convicted felons working in schools. The court ruled that the information was obtained through public records, was true and therefore not libelous. -DB

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Jan. 26, 2009
By Hannah Bergman

The Michigan Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld the dismissal of a libel suit against the Detroit News.

The News was sued after it printed the names of convicted felons working in Michigan schools based on information the paper obtained through a state open records law request.

One alleged felon, bus driver Cathie McIntosh, asked the paper to retract its story on the grounds that once her probation period was completed, the felony charge against her for stealing would be dismissed. The News did not correct the story, and McIntosh later sued.

Siding with the trial court in McIntosh v. Detroit News, the three-judge appellate panel held the paper was protected by the fair-report privilege.

“The privilege precludes damages in a libel suit where a defendant engages in the publication of the contents of a public record, provided the defendant presents a ‘fair and true’ report of the public record,” the court’s unsigned opinion said.

The court also said the “gist” of the article was correct, and thus not libelous.