By Lily Guiney
Posted: February 23, 2024 2:00 PM
GRAND RAPIDS – Kent Circuit Judge Joseph Rossi announced Thursday that he intends to make a ruling in the Michigan Republican Party leadership case next week after reviewing evidence and testimony.
The case, Pego v. Karamo (Kent Docket No. 24-00658), pits disputed Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo against a faction of opposing party members led by co-chair Malinda Pego, whose legal team argued that Karamo was ousted as the leader of the party in a January 6 vote and later replaced with former ambassador Pete Hoekstra.
Hoekstra has already been recognized by the Republican National Committee and former president Donald Trump as the rightful leader of the MIGOP, but Karamo's faction maintains that the process of installing him was done fraudulently and deceitfully.
After Rossi rejected a request from Karamo attorney Don Campbell to dismiss the proceedings on Tuesday, hours of witness testimony were heard Wednesday and Thursday regarding interpretation of the party's bylaws and Robert's Rules of Order (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 21st).
After cross-examination of two witnesses, former MIGOP 8th Congressional District Chair Anne DeLisle and state committeewoman Margaret Kurtzweil, Campbell motioned again to dismiss the case. Rossi heard opposing arguments from both parties on whether to grant the preliminary injunction and said he intends to take the weekend to consider the evidence before heading back to court on Tuesday, February 27.
DeLisle, who had already taken the stand on Tuesday, was cross-examined for two hours Thursday about the January 6 meeting of breakaway committee members, where she was appointed by Pego as secretary pro tempore in the absence of the committee's permanent secretary.
Campbell argued that the MIGOP bylaws mandate that a member cannot serve in two positions at one time, thus vacating DeLisle's spot as 8th District chair when she took on the secretary pro tem position. DeLisle remained firm in her interpretation of the bylaws as allowing a member to serve as temporary secretary without vacating a previous position.
Kurtzweil, who is also a South Lyon City Council member, testified regarding financial contributions to the party made by members who signed a petition calling for a vote to remove Karamo as chair in December 2023. Some members who signed had yet to pay the $50 dues that allowed them voting privileges on the committee, which Campbell argued invalidated the petition to remove Karamo.
Pego's attorney, Jonathan Lauderbach of Warner Norcross + Judd, made the case that all the members who signed the petition paid their dues by the end of 2023, making their signatures valid when the petition was submitted before the meeting on January 6. One signatory did not submit his payment for dues until December 31, but had signed the petition at the beginning of the same month.
"The petitions weren't submitted until January, and (the last signatory to pay his dues) was in good standing when the petition was submitted for the removal of Chair Karamo on the 6th," Lauderbach said.
Kurtzweil, who supports Hoekstra, said that she will not be contributing financially to the party until the matter of the chair is resolved, citing a federal statute that prohibits people from falsely acting on behalf of a party to solicit political donations.
"I will not raise money from Michigan Republican Party until this dispute is resolved because the criminal consequences are way too severe," Kurtzweil said.
Several supporters of Karamo in the audience were visibly and verbally approving of Campell's tactics and showed disappointment and disbelief at comments made by Kurtzweil and DeLisle.
Rossi said he may rule from the bench on February 27, as he did on Tuesday when rejecting Campbell's request to dismiss, given the time-sensitive manner of the dispute. Both parties were given until 9 a.m. Friday to submit any final proofs for evidence consideration.
If Rossi does rule next Tuesday, the case will be resolved just days before two opposing Republican caucuses are set to take place in Detroit and Grand Rapids on March 2. Lauderbach said that if the party does not have a singular leader to unite it in time, Michigan could potentially lose delegates at the Republican National Convention this summer.
Even if a party chairperson is neatly affirmed by the court next week, it's hard to say how long it could take for internal rifts to mend between Karamo and Hoekstra supporters.
When asked by Campbell which convention she plans to be at on March 2 regardless of Rossi's ruling, Kurtzweil was definitive.
"I'll be at the (Hoekstra-chaired) Amway in Grand Rapids," she said.