Watch reporter Sara Rivest on TV 57 news tonight – she is the only reporter compelled to cover a Berrien County Freedom of Information Act court ruling that favored the public’s right for government transparency.
Ray Kirkus made Michigan law today. Kirkus vs New Buffalo will be available to other Michigan citizens when municipalities illegally withhold information guaranteed through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Yet, even as recently as this morning, City Clerk Vander Clay continued to defy Judge Wiley’s August 7, 2017 verbal ruling that the city surveillance videos were public property, there was no exemption that protected their privacy, and ordered them released. The City’s year-long protection of Tony Ashbaugh in a costly lawsuit came to an end today. Perhaps the continuous defiance by the City Clerk will result in a lawsuit filed by me that will find the City attorney back in Judge Wiley’s courtroom arguing against Kirkus vs New Buffalo. Judge Wiley would have no sympathy for the City coming in front of him defending the illegal acts of the city clerk, yet today as well as last week,, City Clerk Vander Clay refused to fulfill my Freedom of Information Act request for the public videos. Perhaps she just doesn’t respect the letter of the law or the orders from a judge.
At today’s hearing, the City’s attorney appearing agitated with Ashbaugh’s attorney, addressed Judge Wiley, saying he didn’t want to be in court today because he thought the case was finished after the last hearing and that he has no interest in Tony’s attempt to prolong the lawsuit. He said that the City wants to be done with this case, that the City agreed at the August 7, 2017 hearing that the videos were public property and the City did not want any part in an appeal that Ashbaugh was considering. Judge Wiley stated that on August 7, he gave a vocal order to release the videos (continuously defied by City Clerk Vander Clay) and he had expected the videos to be released upon that order. Perhaps the Cicy Council should inform their employees that they are legally obligated to uphold judge’s orders and Michigan law even though the Council itself rejected the Freedom of Information Act requirements for over a year.
Again Judge Wiley stated the videos had to be released, this time reiterating his verbal order while signing a written one. He also said that Ray Kirkus had requested a sanction (a penalty for disobeying a rule) against Tony Ashbaugh’s attorney because he filed an improper objection that required the hearing today. Judge Wiley ruled in favor of the sanction, declared Ashbaugh’s objection frivolous, and ordered Ashbaugh to pay all legal fees and court costs associated with today’s hearing.
The bad news for Tony Ashbaugh is good news for the City, Donna Messinger, Larry Pitchford, Diana Selir, and me. Ashbaugh’s private federal lawsuit against private citizens, city employees, and the City for recording and distributing a private conversation will be baseless when his videos end up on You Tube. This civil servant has become the master of the city with everyone bowing down to him in fear of being sued. The City Council has to put an end to this man behind the curtain.