U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Former Michigan county judge sues newspaper, attempts to compel editor to reveal sources

Incident Details

Saugatuck Township Recall/YouTube

Aaron Sheridan, far left, sits in an August 2017 Saugatuck Township special board meeting. Coverage of Sheridan is at the center of a suit from his parents against The Local Observer.

— Saugatuck Township Recall/YouTube
June 21, 2019 - Update

Judge dismisses defamation suit against The Local Observer and its editor

A Michigan county judge has dismissed the case against Saugatuck newspaper The Local Observer and its editor, Michael Gallagher.

According to the Holland Sentinel, Ottawa County Judge Jon Hulsing dismissed the case in its entirety on June 21, 2019. Private citizens Steve and Tanya Sheridan had sued Gallagher for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy following a series of articles about the family. A motion to force the editor to reveal his sources also failed.

Hulsing’s opinion centered on the fact that the Sheridans were not legally wronged by the newspaper. “In our democracy, opinions and the expression of those opinions are constitutionally protected speech,” the opinion said.

The Sheridans told the Sentinel they plan to appeal the decision.

April 9, 2018

A former county judge in Michigan and his wife sued their local newspaper, The Local Observer, for defamation on April 9, 2018, and are attempting to compel its editor to reveal the identities of confidential sources.

Former Allegan County Judge Stephen Sheridan and his wife, Tanya Sheridan, filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper and its editor, Michael Gallagher, alleging that the paper meant to “ridicule, humiliate, and slander” the couple through its reporting on their son, Aaron Sheridan, according to The Holland Sentinel, a nearby daily paper that covered the defamation suit.

In January of last year, The Local Observer published an article that Tanya had harassed her son’s critics, citing multiple anonymous sources. Aaron had served as the manager of a civil township in Allegan County before he was recalled in November 2018, amidst complaints that he had acted inappropriately in his position.

The Sentinel reported that Stephen and Tanya deny this ever occured. It also said it received an email in which Stephen claims that the court motion is “intended to compel Gallagher to reveal who the anonymous sources are in the article,” and that Gallagher invoked reporter’s privilege to maintain the confidentiality of his sources.

A hearing on the motion to compel Gallagher to reveal his sources has been moved from late January to spring 2019.

The Local Observer did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].