AFT Michigan wins order against conservative’s group

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Wayne County judge has ordered a nonprofit touted as probing fraud and corruption through undercover reporting to stop releasing information related to the state arm of the American Federation of Teachers that the union claims was obtained illegally.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten speaks during a press conference in this May 3, 2016 file photo.

AFT Michigan filed a civil complaint in Detroit’s Third Circuit Court Thursday seeking action against Project Veritas, which is led by conservative activist James O’Keefe.

The union alleges a group operative, Marisa or Marissa Jorge, used fraud and deception to secure a summer internship at AFT Michigan this year, “ostensibly to obtain material Project Veritas could use in one of its infamously misleading hit videos,” officials said in a statement Friday.

According to the complaint, Jorge pretended to be a University of Michigan student interested in becoming a teacher, “regularly sought information .... beyond her assignment,” and “was granted access to a substantial amount of confidential and proprietary information including databases, confidential conferences and the status of grievance.”

The union also believes Jorge recorded staffers without their knowledge or consent, which is against state law. Its attorneys argue that AFT Michigan “will suffer irreparable harm if information is disclosed.”

On Friday, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Brian Sullivan sided with the union and signed an emergency restraining order barring Project Veritas and Jorge from publishing, releasing or disclosing information related to AFT Michigan, its officers, employees or affiliated groups.

Reached for comment Friday night, Stephen Gordon, Project Veritas’ communication director, said the group had not been served court papers on the case.

“We’re not going to comment on anything until such time we receive proper notice,” he said.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Union officials praised the judge’s decision.

James O'Keefe

“James O’Keefe and his operatives will stop at nothing to smear their ideological opponents — deception, distortion and dirty tactics — all to advance a political agenda that undermines public school students, teachers and families,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “We are grateful that the Michigan court has protected — at least for now —students, teachers and families in Michigan.”

Project Veritas, which is described on its website as working to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions,” has courted controversy before.

This year, O’Keefe released a video with a CNN producer caught on camera talking about the network’s Russia coverage being ratings-driven. He also released what he contends are 119 hours of raw audio secretly recorded inside CNN’s Atlanta headquarters in 2009.

In 2010, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of entering federal property under false pretenses after trying to tamper with the phones in Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. He called the episode a “huge misunderstanding” and defended his tactics, saying investigative reporters have been using hidden cameras for years.

The year before, he became notorious for his selectively edited videos about ACORN, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, which backed efforts to register voters in urban and other poor areas of the country.

He used a hidden camera to record as he brought a young woman posing as a prostitute to the group’s offices. The widely aired footage and the resulting outrage led to ACORN disbanding.

O’Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit based on the ACORN incident.

The Associated Press contributed.