Saturday, February 4, 2023

MSU given 10 days by judge to turn over donor agreements

A Michigan Court of Claims judge has ordered MSU to turn over the agreements between the university and the donors to the Detroit Free Press within 10 days.

December 13, 2022
Head Coach Mel Tucker during Michigan State’s last game at home against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. Indiana ultimately beat the Spartans, 39-31.
Head Coach Mel Tucker during Michigan State’s last game at home against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. Indiana ultimately beat the Spartans, 39-31. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

A Michigan Court of Claims judge has ordered MSU to turn over the agreements to the Detroit Free Press between the university and two donors that funded Mel Tucker's contract. The information must be turned over within the next 10 days.

Herschel Fink, the lawyer for the Detroit Free Press, believes that the lawsuit was unnecessary from the start.

"It was obvious from the get-go that these were public records," Fink said. "And for whatever reason, the university decided to, I guess I could say, carry the water for the donors. But this is, this is expensive litigation that was totally unnecessary, very obvious case of it being public records."

Earlier this year, the Free Press requested records of the agreements between MSU and Mat Ishbia and Steven St. Andre, but were denied by former MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., citing FOIA's privacy exemption. The two helped fund Tucker's 10-year, $95 million contract

According to Judge Brock Swartzle's opinion, "The gift agreements, considered as a whole, do not fall under the ambit of FOIA's privacy exemption and must be produced, but MSU must redact the home addresses and estate-planning provisions within those agreements before production."

MSU tried to contend that the amount of gifts, the payment schedules or the donors' expressed desires for how the university should use the funds, constitute private or confidential information. However, Swartzle said in the opinion that "MSU has not pointed this Court to a single authority applying Michigan law that supports its contention."

In the opinion, Swartzle understood MSU's claim that making the disclosure could have "a collateral consequence of chilling future philanthropic gifts from private donors," but said that under state law there is no current exception for such actions.

"We're reviewing the court ruling but we plan to comply," University spokesperson Emily Guerrant said.

MSU now has 10 days to produce the three gift agreements requested by the Free Press with the ordered redactions. 

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