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Former news editor files lawsuit against the University, Daily, three editors

BY JOSEPH LICHTERMAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 17, 2010

A former Michigan Daily news editor has filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan, The Michigan Daily and three current and former Daily editors.

The former editor and current University student, Julie Rowe, resigned from her position as a senior news editor at the Daily in March 2009 after top editors claimed Rowe had plagiarized in two articles — one of which ran in print and online, while the other was discovered before publication.

In her lawsuit, filed recently in Washtenaw County Circuit Court and disclosed in the University Board of Regents monthly litigation report on Monday, Rowe alleges that Gary Graca, then editor in chief of the Daily, Courtney Ratkowiak, then managing editor and now a columnist for the Daily, and Jacob Smilovitz, then managing news editor and current editor in chief of the Daily, were wrong in their assessment that her actions constituted plagiarism. The suit also claims that the University sanctioned the newspaper’s alleged unfair treatment by neglecting to appropriately supervise the Daily — which claims to be editorially independent.

Rowe has brought four charges — defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and denial of substantive and procedural due process rights — against the five named defendants. According to the lawsuit, she is seeking damages, costs and interest in excess of $25,000 for each charge.

One of the articles in question, titled “In Other Ivory Towers,” ran on page two of the Daily on Feb. 2, 2009 and was published on the Daily’s website.

“In Other Ivory Towers” is a short feature published weekly in the Daily that details happenings on other college campuses using various other news outlets as sources.

In the article that was published, Rowe attributed information to an article in The Diamondback — the University of Maryland’s student newspaper — and two pieces from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Graca contended in an editor’s note published on the front page of the Daily on March 5 that Rowe plagiarized the sources.

“While this particular piece cited these three sources, it inappropriately took complete sentences and phrases verbatim from them without using quotes. This implied the material was paraphrased when, in fact, it was not,” Graca wrote at the time.

In the lawsuit, Rowe and her attorney claim the article was not plagiarized because she attributed the information to the sources and never claimed them as her own.

“At no time was there any personal offering by Julie Rowe: the column is as it states, a reprinting of other publications,” the plaintiff’s lawyer wrote in the summons and complaint.

Contacted by the Daily on Monday, Rowe declined to comment on the litigation, referring all questions to her attorney.

Arthur Butler, a Plymouth, Mich.-based attorney representing Rowe, said in an interview yesterday that he believed Rowe was “wrongly forced into a resignation” after she was accused of plagiarizing. Butler said he thinks the case will ultimately be decided based on what is determined to be the definition of plagiarism.

“I looked at the dictionary for the definition of plagiarism and it said something to the effect of ‘presenting one’s work as its own,’ ” Butler said in a phone interview. “I’ve read the article and the whole scope of the article is that it’s addressing and attributing the information, the comments, to the various other campus papers. At no time did I ever interpret that as saying that it was her own work.”

Graca and Ratkowiak were contacted Monday about the lawsuit, but they declined to comment on the allegations.

Smilovitz also declined to comment on Monday.

“Because it is a litigation matter, right now, I have been asked by our lawyers not to comment at this time,” Smilovitz said, adding that he was speaking both as an individual named in the suit and as the representative for the Daily.

Herschel Fink, a Detroit-based attorney representing the Daily, Graca, Ratkowiak and Smilovitz, declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit when interviewed yesterday. However, he said, “we’ll defend it vigorously.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Daily on Monday he would not comment on the allegations.

“It’s unfortunate that this disagreement has occurred,” Fitzgerald said. “But, we certainty hope for a quick and appropriate resolution.”

— This article was not edited by Daily Editor in Chief Jacob Smilovitz, Daily columnist Courtney Ratkowiak or former Daily Editor in Chief Gary Graca.