TRAVERSE CITY — A Northwestern Michigan College attorney said his review of college trustees' behind-the-scenes email exchanges found no violations of state open government laws, but it's not clear how far he delved into trustees' private communications.
NMC leaders asked their long-time attorney Charles Judson to conduct an investigation after Record-Eagle executives alleged trustees' non-private communications violated Michigan's Open Meetings Act.
Emails obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act show at least six of the college's seven elected trustees privately debated by email and telephone between Jan. 20 and Jan. 27 whether to televise their monthly board meetings.
Board members unanimously decided at a Jan. 27 meeting to start recording meetings and posting them online. Little public discussion occurred before the unanimous vote, even though most trustees and a board sub-committee publicly opposed video recordings up until then.
Judson said during a public meeting last week that his review was limited to emails provided to the newspaper. He would not comment further on the scope of his review -- or whether the review included interviews with NMC trustees -- and cited attorney-client privilege.
"Once again, I guess what I have to indicate to you is that in my report to the board, I provided them with a detailed scope and a reason and an analysis behind the purpose of what I thought the report was for them, and so I really can’t go in to anything that’s incorporated in that because the privilege has not been waived," Judson said.
Law professor: Probe should go beyond emails
Robin Luce-Herrmann, a state media law expert and attorney for the Michigan Press Association, questioned Judson's take on attorney-client privilege.
"Generally speaking, the attorney-client privilege covers communications between an attorney and a client for the purpose of obtaining legal advice," she said. "I’m hard-pressed to understand how the fact of whether Mr. Judson interviewed any of the board members would be covered by the privilege."