Judge denies summary disposition requests in Levitt case

Central Michigan lawyer Todd Levitt, right, was in court on Friday at the Isabella County Trial Court building to see if his suit against CMU student Zachary Felton will go to trial. Levitt is suing Felton for defamation in regards to a parody social media account.

Todd Levitt is a step closer to having his day in court after Isabella County Chief Judge Paul Chamberlain made a decision on several motions in an ongoing libel suit filed by the Mount Pleasant attorney.

A motion hearing is scheduled for Sept. 18, where Chamberlain will decide on a motion for summary disposition filed by The Morning Sun. The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. in Isabella County Trial Court.

Levitt filed a civil lawsuit on April 23 against Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis, local newspaper The Morning Sun, the paper's parent company Digital First Media, CMU College of Business professors James Felton and Kenneth Sanney and attorney Gordon Bloem, as well as others yet to be identified who are listed as John or Jane Doe.

Individual defendants Felton and Bloem, represented by Jon Schrotenboer, and Sanney, representing himself, filed motions for summary disposition on July 31, which were denied by Chamberlain. 

The Morning Sun filed a for a protective order preventing Levitt from compelling answers to any of the 134 discovery questions served to them, arguing that the requests invade First Amendment rights.

Courts recognized that news gatherers have a qualified privilege granted by the First Amendment and can not be required to disclose unpublished information or the identity of their sources. 

Chamberlain granted a protective order for two of the discovery questions. For the rest, he ruled that it was unclear to which of the questions the press shield law applies.

The Morning Sun is not required to disclose sources who told them that Levitt's website said his "Top College Lawyer" award was chosen by an independent search committee. It was also not required to reveal who gave them a copy of an audio recording of an incident that occurred between Levitt, Felton and Sanney

Meanwhile, discovery requests filed to Levitt by Felton were similarly challenged by Levitt.

Felton requested to see Levitt's personal income tax records and his law firm's business tax records from 2010 through 2014 and 10 years of medical and psychological records.

Levitt requested that the court issue an order to prevent any of the defendants from publishing any of this information, which Chamberlain granted. Information about Levitt's ex-wife was also redacted from his personal income tax records.

Levitt is accusing the defendants of libel and slander, false light invasion of privacy, intentional interference with business expectancy, civil conspiracy, infliction of emotional distress and reckless conduct due to The Morning Sun. Levitt, represented by Mount Pleasant attorney John Devine, is seeking $1 million in damages for each count.