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MSU appeals FOIA decision to Michigan Supreme Court

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Michigan State University has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to put a hold on an order to release the names of student-athletes who were suspects in criminal cases.

MSU is supposed to comply with the lower court order by the end of the month. But the university asked for a delay while the case is appealed to the state Supreme Court.

MSU is opposing a freedom of information request filed last year by ESPN. The network was investigating whether colleges, police, and prosecutors give preferential treatment to student-athletes who run afoul of the law. MSU says it should not have to give up the names unless someone is actually charged with a crime.

MSU redacted the names of victims, witnesses, and suspects. ESPN did not dispute hiding the names of victims and witnesses, but said the names of the suspects are necessary to the investigation.

MSU says the suspects have a right to privacy until and unless they’re actually charged.

MSU’s brief argues that what the lower courts have done “unjustly nullifies the privacy rights of countless private citizens based solely on their membership in a group - politicians, judges, celebrities, the wealthy, their family members - whose status suggests they might be candidates for preferential treatment.”

But ESPN says the inquiry is a matter of legitimate public interest that trumps expectations of privacy. If MSU loses on the privacy argument, the university is asking that a judge review the un-redacted records before they’re release to ESPN.

The Supreme Court has not decided whether to issue an order, or whether to take the appeal. ESPN’s response is due no later than Oct. 26.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.