Michigan Daily Attorney: Kitchener Using Bully Tactics Against Student Paper, Reporter

In a radio interview with SN590 AM in Toronto, Herschel Fink, the attorney representing The Michigan Daily and student-reporter Matt Slovin revealed that the newspaper has yet to be served with anything by the Kitchener Rangers, which reportedly filed a lawsuit Tuesday.

The quite candid interview with SN590’s Matt Brown can be listened to in full here.

Now there’s still a good chance the paper simply hasn’t been served yet and will be, but without having seen the case, Fink could only detail what he has seen through media reports. However the attorney revealed quite a bit about what he thinks about of the Rangers’ case.

Some of the highlights from the interview after the jump.

Fink clarified what has happened officially to date:

Other than a letter requesting a retraction, and probably a press release, the newspaper has not been served with anything. So it’s hard for me to respond to something I haven’t seen. I don’t know if they’re asking for a million or a billion or a dollar, I don’t know what they’re asking. I don’t even know exactly what they’re claiming is untrue. What I can say is that I’m unaware of anything that would cause the Michigan Daily to doubt the accuracy of what it reported.

Fink detailed why he feels the student paper and its reporter are being bullied.

As a lawyer who defends news organizations in the States for a living, I find the Rangers’ conduct here to be troubling. They’re acting like bullies. They’re trying to bully a student newspaper and sue the journalist who were reporting a legitimate story of public interest.

I certainly don’t deny that the Rangers have every right to issue a denial… What I really find troubling, in a foreign court… To sue them in a foreign country, I must tell you the Free Speech laws and protections for the media in Canada are nowhere near what they are in the United States and of course the Rangers are aware of that.

That’s why they’re filing whatever it is they’re filing or threatening to file a lawsuit in Canada, where they know The Michigan Daily would not have the same kinds of protections and that’s what I call bullying and in fact there’s a name for it. The courts in the United States call it “libel tourism.”

They’re forum shopping. They try to find a forum, a court, a country, where the law will favor them. It should be apparent to the Rangers and their lawyers, there’s really no jurisdiction over The Michigan Daily in the courts of Ontario. We don’t do business there, we don’t target that audience, we don’t sell newspapers or distribute newspapers in Canada.

The Canadian court, if it is given the issue and pursues a decision on it, the Canadian court is likely, I would think, to throw the case out for lack of jurisdiction.

…If [the Rangers] have a serious claim, they should file it in the proper jurisdiction.

Fink, a former reporter and newspaper editor, mentioned he has tried five cross-border cases, all of which had involved hockey players or hockey agents. He also has a pretty well established record in libel cases.

The Michigan-based attorney felt as though the Rangers have every right to deny the story, but that the organization is taking perhaps too drastic a step by apparently filing suit. Fink also shared what may have been a veiled warning, mentioning that libel cases can often be more damaging to the plaintiff than they are to the defendant.

Sometimes things come out and there are unintended consequences that you wish you hadn’t started. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case here. If it did go all the way and if it moved into the U.S. courts, which is another possibility, there’s a potential to dig into this whole question of compensation of players and whether it takes place and how the league deals with this issue.

It sounds like Fink would be more than willing to put the entire Canadian Hockey League on trial should this case ever make it back to the U.S.

Brown asked if the situation in which Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson alleged the Kitchener Rangers offered Cam Fowler “something like $500,000” to play there would come up. The Rangers and Windsor Spitfires threatened suing Jackson but never followed through (h/t to Corey Pronman for the links). In response said, “Obviously it could.”

That Kitchener has threatened suit before, but didn’t follow through, makes it look a little like cherry-picking and in this case, the Rangers picked a student newspaper. This somewhat helps support Finks message about the Rangers looking like bullies. Fink mentioned the words “bully” or “bullied” numerous times throughout the interview.

When questioned about the potential of a counter-suit on behalf of the Daily, Fink laughed and said:

I’m not going to telegraph what I’m going to do. There are all kinds of interesting possibilities if this case goes forward. I really hope it doesn’t. It shouldn’t. It’s not that big an issue in the scope of the problems we face in the world. There are a lot of ways this could go and I’m somebody that knows the different roads. We’ll deal with it if we have to.

Fink covered much more ground with Brown, so if you have any interest in this case, I highly recommend listening to the interview.

What happens next is still up in the air. Seeing as the paper has yet to be served and the potential dangers to the plaintiff in pursuing this case, who knows how far this gets.

Again, it comes down to whether or not the Kitchener Rangers feel their reputation was damaged enough to go through what could be a fairly messy and revealing process.

About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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