Even though ESPN has suffered a number of job cuts in recent years, they still have a robust journalism apparatus, at least much more so than any of their other national sports competitors. And as part of ESPN’s investigative journalism, we’ve seen them embroiled in multiple lawsuits with universities over public records request.
Just last year a dispute between ESPN and Notre Dame went all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court, which sided with the university when ESPN was seeking records requests from the campus police department. That query was part of a wider investigation from ESPN and Outside the Lines on how athletes accused of crimes are treated on campus.
Now Michigan State University is suing ESPN over another public records request dealing with an active sexual assault investigation that involves three Spartan football players. The university is suing because ESPN’s records request is in conflict with MSU’s wishes to keep the private and a directive from the county prosecutor’s office.
More from the Detroit Free Press:
Michigan State University is suing ESPN over a public records request involving police reports relating to ongoing sexual assault investigations.
MSU argues in a court filing that it has been put in an “impossible position” because Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office asked the university to withhold the records and ESPN asked for them to be released.
An ESPN Inc. reporter submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the university Feb. 10 seeking all police reports containing allegations of sexual assault since Dec. 10, 2016, as well as records of arrests made between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9, according to court documents. The request came one day after MSU announced the suspensions of three MSU football players and a staff member associated with the team amid a sexual assault investigation.
MSU provided some reports to ESPN but withheld others because Siemon’s office was still deciding whether to issue criminal charges in relation to some reports.
ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne in a phone call last month reminded MSU spokesperson Jason Cody that ESPN won an open records lawsuit against MSU in 2015 and was prepared to sue the university again, according to an affidavit Cody signed as part of MSU’s lawsuit.
Ironically, this is the second time ESPN and Michigan State have been involved in a lawsuit over records requests. In 2015, a Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in favor of ESPN when they sought incident reports involving athletes at the university. Lavigne also happened to be the reporter in question in that case as well.
The school initially blacked out names of individuals and ESPN won a suit to have the redactions undone. Time will tell which side can make a compelling enough argument to win this case.