The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled recently that a Detroit police officers union could not contract around the state’s open records laws in an employment contract.
Using the state’s open records law, the Detroit Free Press had sought a photograph of a police officer that had been suspended after allegations he was taking department money from an anti-car theft program. The police officer’s union filed a lawsuit trying to stop the release of the photo.
The union had argued release of the photograph would endanger the officer’s life since he had been undercover and the release would violate the terms of the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
In an unsigned but unanimous decision of the three-judge panel issued July 30, the court said that the union could not circumvent the state’s open record law in such a way.
“Information regarding individuals charged with felonies who are awaiting trial is not material of a personal nature subject to nondisclosure because of privacy interests, and any court proceedings are open to the public,” the court reasoned.
“In the present case, the officer was charged with criminal conduct related to his employment, appeared at a public court proceeding for an arraignment, and his continued prosecution is of public interest. The public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure when a governmental employee is accused of violating the public trust,” the court concluded.
The issue is similar to one raised in Wisconsin this year in which another state employees’ union argued its collective bargaining agreement prevented the release of union-represented, state employee names and other information ordinarily public under state law.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court too rejected that argument and held the information was public under the state open records law.