CORUNNA — The attorney for an Owosso woman Monday filed a lawsuit in 35th Circuit Court against the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office contesting the denial of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The suit, filed on behalf of Nichole Ruggiero by attorney Philip Ellison of Outside Legal Counsel PLC of Hemlock, is seeking a court order to compel the Sheriff’s Office to release records pertaining to the FOIA request.
In addition, the suit asks for “reasonable attorney fees,” as well as “punitive damages,” and “other relief that the court deems equitable and just.”
Ruggiero also recently sued the county board over the manner in which a search committee selected a treasurer to replace now-retired Treasurer Tom Dwyer. The committee apparently violated the Open Meetings Act in handling the selection.
According to Ruggiero’s FOIA request, she is seeking “email correspondence to/from Lt. Tamie Willson (Shiawassee County Jail Administrator) and/or Sheriff Brian BeGole” and Michigan Department of Corrections personnel.
Those records, which The Argus-Press obtained via a third party several weeks ago, show Willson asked a Michigan Department of Corrections employee for contact information on a former MDOC inmate who rented an apartment from former jail corrections officer Kathy McGuckin’s ex-husband, who participated in a state program that offers housing to recent parolees.
Kathy McGuckin was fired by Sheriff’s Brian BeGole for alleged policy and ethics violations. She is contesting the termination in a lawsuit of her own.
Ruggiero’s FOIA, the suit says, was denied by the Sheriff’s Office on the grounds that “the requested records are exempt from disclosure at this time as investigating records compiled for law enforcement purposes, where disclosure would interfere with law enforcement proceedings, deprive a person of the right to an impartial administrative adjudication, and constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The MDOC employee did not disclose contact information for the former inmate, and rebuked Willson for requesting records about parolees in a “back door” manner.
“I’m offended and angry that you’re involving me, albeit in a “back door” manner, in your department’s drama and investigations,” the state employee wrote to Willson. “If you would like further information, please contact my supervisor.”
No court dates have yet been scheduled in the lawsuit. It’s possible the lawsuit will be moved to another court’s jurisdiction to prevent a potential conflict of interest.
Sheriff BeGole emailed a statement this morning regarding the lawsuit: “It is our understanding that a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was left on the lobby floor at the Sheriff’s Office. We are processing it on to our attorneys and will be vigorously defended.”
Ellison disputes that he left the lawsuit on the floor of the Sheriff’s Office. “I went to serve them with the lawsuit and the Undersheriff tried to refuse service,” Ellison said today. “Under Michigan law, government agencies are required to have someone on duty at all times to accept process servers. He’s broken the law there. A legal, alternative way to serve the lawsuit was to the undersheriff. Apparently he doesn’t know the law about FOIA or the service process. Our FOIA lawsuit is to provide ultimate transparency in a government agency that is acting contrary to sunshine laws. They’re being legal bullies and they’re going to have to answer for it in court.”