The Gongwer Blog

by Ben Solis, Staff Writer

Judge Slams Lead AG Investigator In Electors Case

Posted: June 4, 2024 12:31 PM

The inability of the lead investigator for the Department of Attorney General to remember key details in the criminal case against the Trump electors from 2016 who allegedly fraudulently acted as the legitimate electors brought scathing criticism Monday from the judge overseeing the case.

Special Agent Howard Shock at various times said he either didn't remember key pieces of his investigation, that he needed to time to refresh his memory or that he couldn't say one way or another on questions regarding the case.

54-A Lansing District Judge Kristen Simmons said Shock had poorly presented the state's case on the witness stand.

"I think it's glaring that we have a concern, in this courtroom, about the investigation and his ability to put forth information from that investigation," Simmons said. "I took the bench after 9 a.m. and twice within that hour, I've had to break for him to refresh his recollection on his investigation. I've given an analogy about 'giving a dissertation,' and you working and then doing an investigation; you're gathering research and it's your responsibility to be able to disseminate that when you go to give your presentation on that information."

Simmons added that the court was "not getting a great presentation."

"I can understand why the questions are now steering to how this investigation went about, because if you're not presenting your investigation well, we now need to understand what happened during this investigation that turns to this point that you can't even tell us or remember half of the things that you claim that you discovered in your investigation," Simmons said.

The unusually sharp criticism from the judge highlighted Monday's action in court.

In all, the day's cross examination of Shock with the Department of Attorney General by John Freeman, an attorney for defendant Marian Sheridan, attempted to further argue that the 15 defendants charged with forgery and conspiracy to commit forgery were told their actions on December 14, 2020, were legal and would only come into play if Trump had won a recount or convinced various courts that the election was marred by instances of fraud.

The argument undercuts the prosecution's claim that Sheridan, Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden, former Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock and additional defendants knowingly engaged in scheme to falsely act as Trump's duly qualified electors, which also aimed to dupe the state Senate, the U.S. Senate and the National Archives into believing that Trump had won the election.

Monday's hearing also saw the presiding judge say that the main investigator's testimony was lacking and that he had done a poor job of presenting his investigation at a critical stage in the prosecution.

Proceedings over the past few weeks have focused on preliminary examinations for Sheridan, Henry Choate, Clifford Frost, Mayra Rodriguez, Rose Rook, Marian Sheridan and Ken Thompson. The proceedings will determine whether the Department of Attorney General has enough evidence to persuade to bind the lot over for trial.

Preliminary examinations for Berden, Maddock, Amy Facchinello, John Haggard, Mari-Ann Henry and Michele Lundgren – had preliminary examinations that concluded in April (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 24, 2024).

As the proceedings wind down – Simmons said she hopes to have examinations completed by Wednesday – Freeman and other attorneys have grilled Shock on the stand.

A hearing last week focused entirely on Shock, with the investigator relaying much of his earlier testimony to Logan on direct examination continued from Tuesday (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 29, 2024).

Shock continued being grilled during a hearing where Rodriguez attorney Wright Blake and Choate attorney David Kallman took a crack at the investigator to parse and impugn the investigation that led to the charges (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 30, 2024).

Freeman, who spent large parts of last week going toe to toe with Shock, continued Monday.

The attorney pressed Shock on the unindicted co-conspirators in the case, why the department didn't authorize video records or other evidence that could have been gathered from the former MIGOP headquarters in Lansing, and the political dynamics of the case.

Freeman also attempted to use Nessel's own statements against Shock's investigatory affidavits, which led to charges authorized by the Assistant Attorney General LaDonna Logan.

Regarding unindicted co-conspirators, Freeman repeatedly asked about the attorneys from the Trump campaign and others, like those from the Amistad Project, who he argued led his client and others to believe that their actions were lawful, supported by past precedent and that their votes for Trump would only be used if some contingent situation – a successful recount or lawsuit finding in the campaign's favor – had emerged.

Freeman asked specifically why the department did not authorize charges against Trump campaign aide Shawn Flynn and Amistad Project attorney Ian Northon, whom Shock alleged mailed the documents to the U.S. Senate and National Archives and walked with the electors to the state Capitol on December 14, 2020, respectively.

Shock said in response that he had limited evidence of their involvement to firmly say they had committed a crime, but the investigation remained open.

Asked if he at the onset of his investigation considered the MIGOP headquarters to be a crime scene, Shock said yes.

Freeman asked Shock if he was aware that the MIGOP headquarters had video surveillance and that he could have gotten that evidence through a search warrant. Shock said he was aware of that and that it was obtained because the department didn't authorize the search of the party's former capital-area outpost.

Shock later said on the witness stand that he had near weekly meetings with Nessel as the investigation was carried out, with Freeman saying those conversations were at the heart of the political nature of the case.

The defendants have long called the charges a political witch hunt from Nessel, one of the state's top elected officials from the Democratic Party.

Freeman also argued the conversations were relevant as Nessel last year claimed that defendants had been brainwashed, by the Trump campaign and the former president himself, into believing that Trump had indeed won.

The attorney said this all spoke to the state of mind Sheridan and others were in during the final month of 2020, and that the state of mind was not one of malicious intent to defraud the nation on behalf of the former president.

Freeman asserted that examination on that subject would further show that politics, and not a true crime, led to the charges.

Freeman's line of questioning continued for the entire Monday session, showing video of Sheridan from press conferences where she repeatedly used the term "back up" when referring to the slate of electors, insinuating that she, too, knew the electors would only be activated if a future situation arose where Trump had successfully contested the election results.

The attorney also noted several instances where Shock's testimony changed upon refreshing his recollection or if he had a moment to rethink an answer.

Proceedings are to continue before Simmons on Tuesday.

Worthy Email Sent Near End Of Flint Criminal Case Excoriated MSC Ruling

Posted: May 4, 2024 10:31 PM

One of two prosecutors leading the failed Flint water criminal investigation appeared furious, dismayed and dead set on finding a way to keep the charges alive in the months following the Michigan Supreme Court's dismissal of the cases.

Gongwer News Service filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking to shine light on the decisions that led to criminal charges against several former state officials, including former Governor Rick Snyder, and drama that unfolded while the team faced setbacks until the prosecution ended in 2023.

Snyder was charged with a misdemeanor. Former Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former chief medical executive Eden Wells, former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, former Snyder chief of staff Jarrod Agen, former Snyder aide Richard Baird, and DHHS early childhood health section manager Nancy Peeler were each charged with felonies.

The request asked for email and text message communications between former Chief Deputy Attorney General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy from the moment the Flint prosecutorial team decided to drop existing charges against state actors implicated in the Flint water crisis, to the days following the team's decision to close the case.

That period spanned from January 1, 2019, when the team was preparing to drop charges filed by a special prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, to October 1, 2023, when the new Flint prosecutorial team led by Hammoud and Worthy finally announced that the case was being closed – due mostly to the high court's invalidation of the charges because they were issued by a one-judge grand jury.

The department initially denied the request in part by withholding some documents and redacting whole emails initially sent to Gongwer (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 6, 2024). The department later released additional unredacted documents to Gongwer following an appeal.

Among emails delivered to Gongwer following the appeal is an October 2022 email from Worthy to Hammoud and former Wayne County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Molly Kettler, who joined the Flint criminal team along with her boss in Worthy.

The email came months after the high court punted the cases in a unanimous opinion, in which former Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack equated the one-man grand jury to "a Star Chamber comeback." The line references the court 15th Century English court established by King Henry VII that became synonymous with backroom secrecy, arbitrary decisions and oppressive outcomes for those implicated in both criminal and civil matters.

McCormack ordered the lower courts to dismiss the indictments, which they followed.

The invalidation of the one-judge grand jury system in the Flint matter was a particularly heavy blow to Worthy and the Wayne County court system, as she noted in statements following the high court's opinion that the county had used it in complex cases where investigative targets and witnesses go silent from fear of retribution.

Worthy's email to Hammoud and Kettler sent October 5, 2022, expressed her displeasure with the high court's decision. It also detailed her wish to continue with the prosecution by taking the case back to the probable cause and preliminary examination phase – a scenario that never transpired because the team would less than a year later announce that the case was closed.

The longtime Wayne prosecutor starts with an aphorism about an elderly family member teaching her at an early age "to tell the truth and do the right thing," and that is why she joined onto the case when Nessel asked her to assist in the matter. Nessel was handling the civil case in federal court and built a conflict wall around herself and the criminal investigation, which led to Hammoud and Worthy taking the reins.

"A city was poisoned. They could not trust their water supply. The previous investigation was flawed, and we have told that story many times. And yes, as almost always that city was heavily a city of color. And how many times had nothing been done to hold people accountable – almost never," Worthy wrote. "We assembled a talented team of lawyers with a combined over 150 years of experience that cared about what was going on in Flint."

From there, Worthy picks apart the opinion, asserting that the team "did not, as referenced in the MSC decision, 'take a short cut,' nor did we employ incorrect law or procedure."

"And as a reminder, even before we petitioned for this lawful process, millions of pages of documents were examined that had not previously been examined," Worthy said of the decision to drop the previous Office of Special Counsel charges to begin a new investigation. "Search warrants were executed, and hundreds of pieces of new evidence (were) discovered – including over 600 cell phones. We also dismissed some cases that had already been charged because they did involve a full investigation into all of the deaths."

As to the one-man grand jury, Worthy reiterated her belief that the authority used to indict Snyder and others "has been a part of the Michigan judicial system since 1917 – for over 100 years – and the Michigan Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld its constitutionality."

"It has been used over the years by offices across this country – including here in Wayne County mainly in highly sensitive and dangerous cases where witnesses were literally afraid of being killed, drive by and gang shootings, and gruesome child deaths just to name a few examples," Worthy wrote. "It has been a great tool to reduce very violent crime and get to the truth in other cases such as this one. Again, the process has been upheld by the MSC throughout time and memorial. It has been a great tool to reduce very violent crime and get to the truth in other cases such as this one. Again, the process has been upheld by the MSC throughout (time immemorial)."

That said, Worthy expressed her belief that the one-judge grand jury was a longer path "to the truth" than a complaint and warrant, which she said was the opposite of a short cut.

"In fact, we were in court daily and on weekends for a full year when no other court in Michigan was in session. By law, I cannot go any further as to what was done during this process, but all of the defense attorneys have all of the materials that was generated," Worthy wrote. "I should also mention that one does not just show up one day and start this process. Steps much be taken and ultimately it must be approved by a circuit judge. So, though the Department of Attorney General petitioned for this process, the final de union rests with a judge."

As for a potential path forward, which became a talking point from the department and the prosecutorial team following the high court's ruling, Worthy said that since only the indictments were invalidated, the warrants remained valid and there was a process for that as well.

She also advised Hammoud and Kettler to read the process outlined in the talking points.

"Per the language (of) the statutes and the court's decision in the Peeler case: A one-man grand jury finds probable cause; issues an arrest warrant; (and) the charges proceed directly to a preliminary exam," Worthy wrote. "So, we can still proceed with these prosecutions based upon the arrest warrants issued by the grand juror."

Months later, in late December 2022, the Court of Appeals dismissed Worthy's and Hammoud's attempt to appeal the dismissal of charges against Lyon. The other defendants also argued for the court to affirm the high court's ruling, asserting that the state bungled the prosecution and unconstitutionally issued indictments against them using a one-person grand jury.

The order signed by Judge Sima Patel wrote that the panel was unable to grant relief when the circuit court implemented an explicit directive from the Michigan Supreme Court. A pair of separate motions for expedited proceedings and supplemental briefing filed by the department were therefore denied as moot given the dismissal of the appeal.

The charges filed against them by the attorney general's office stopped moving forward at this point.

Around this time, Snyder's charges were dismissed by a Genessee Circuit Court judge, and the team said then it was also mounting an appeal on that front.

On September 20, 2023, the high court again upheld the decisions of the lower courts to dismiss the felony charges, declining to hear Hammoud's and Worthy's appeals.

Chatfield, Wife Charged With Embezzling Nonprofit, Dark Money Funds

Posted: April 18, 2024 4:19 PM

Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield was known for enjoying the high life – vacationing abroad, drinking fancy wines and dining at the finest restaurants. Tuesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel charged him with illegally using his nonprofit, PACs and official government resources as his personal piggy bank to fund his jet set ways.

Chatfield became the second former Michigan House speaker in a year to be charged with felonies. He faces 13 charges against him related to the misuse of money in a landmark case that brings into focus the fundraising culture in the Capitol community where legislators, especially leadership, can command donations to a variety of funds from those whose access can depend on their financial support with little oversight.

Lee Chatfield's wife, Stephanie Chatfield, was charged with two felonies related to the scheme: embezzlement from a nonprofit organization and conspiracy to embezzle from a nonprofit organization, each 10-year felonies with similarly hefty fines.

The allegations that spurred the investigation into Chatfield's alleged criminal activity arose initially from sexual assault and criminal sexual conduct allegations lodged against him by his sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield. Nessel said her department thoroughly investigated the matter and that her team could not reach the burden of proof to bring charges.

Nessel added that the case involving her was now closed. Still, Nessel thanked Rebekah Chatfield for coming forward and said the financial charges would not be possible without her reporting of accusations against Lee Chatfield. The decision was disappointing to Rebekah Chatfield's attorney, Jamie White (see separate story).

The former speaker is charged with one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony, as well as four counts of embezzlement from a non-profit organization, three counts of embezzlement by a public officer over $50, and one count of conspiracy to commit embezzlement from a non-profit organization (each 10-year felonies with hefty fines). Four additional embezzlement charges were filed against Lee Chatfield, each felonies punishable by five years in prison.

"Our investigation has uncovered evidence that Lee Chatfield used various different schemes to embezzle, steal, and convert both private and public monies to fund a lavish lifestyle that his state salary could not possibly afford," Nessel said. "While the entirety of our investigation is not yet completed, my department is moving forward with 13 charges against Lee Chatfield alleging rampant and flagrant misuse and misappropriation of political nonprofit funds while speaker of the House, including conducting a criminal enterprise."

The cases were filed in the 54-B District Court in East Lansing but were not available for public dissemination as of Tuesday afternoon and might not be available until Wednesday, court staff said.

Nessel said that the Chatfields would be permitted to turn themselves into law enforcement for booking purposes. Their arraignments are scheduled for 9 a.m. May 2.

At the crux of the charges: the alleged misuse of various funds operated by Chatfield and his inner circle. Nessel accused the Republican former speaker of using a nonprofit fund to cover more than $100,000 in personal credit card charges and taking thousands of dollars in travel stipend allowed through the Michigan House for trips never taken between his northern Michigan home and Lansing.

Chatfield also is charged with subleasing an apartment he rented using his Peninsula Fund but pocketing the sublease proceeds instead of repaying his nonprofit.

Nessel described Chatfield's conduct as "rampant and flagrant misuse of political nonprofit funds."

Mary Chartier of Chartier & Nyamfukudza, Chatfield's attorney, said she and her firm are prepared to fight the charges "every step of the way," noting that the "it took almost two and a half years for the attorney general's office to come up with charges against Mr. Chatfield regarding supposed financial offenses."

Charging documents and investigative affidavits provided by the Department of Attorney General detail the depth of the Chatfield's fundraising prowess and how they allegedly turned that skill into a scheme to enrich themselves with kickbacks, funds converted to personal use on vacations and luxury accommodations, and purchases for goods and services that did were not intended to further the mission of the funds under their control.

That includes funds allegedly illegally converted for his own personal use from the 501(c)(4) Peninsula Fund; his political action committees, The Chatfield Majority Fund and The Chatfield Majority Fund 2 and the state budget of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Nessel alleged further that Lee Chatfield used nonprofit funds to pay off personal credit card expenses, sought improper mileage reimbursements from the House of Representatives for district-to-Lansing travel that never occurred, implemented a check kickback scheme to move PAC money through staff and back to his pocket, and sublet an apartment, paid for by the Peninsula Fund, for his own profit.

Some of the trips paid for by the misuse of those funds included visits to Universal Studios in Orlando and then Miami, Florida, as well as trips to Las Vegas.

As for Stephanie Chatfield, Nessel alleged that she was aware of and monitored those transfers with the aim of assisting the conspiracy, which further enriched their family and friends. When asked why she was just charged with two counts instead of several, Nessel said those were the only ones they could prove her involvement at this time.

Nessel stressed that the investigation continues regarding alleged financial crimes. Nessel came under criticism after she charged two onetime Chatfield top aides, Rob and Anné Minard, following two years of investigation but didn't charge Chatfield. She insisted then the investigation remained active.

"We have definitely not ruled out charges against the Chatfields and many others," she said. "This is the beginning of the charging process for the former speaker."

During the news conference announcing the charges, Nessel was asked if there was any evidence found connecting donors to the Chatfield funds that resulted in misuse and abuse, and if those donors got anything back in return.

Nessel reiterated that the investigation on the financial side was ongoing, and that they were moving forward with what they could charge now.

The attorney general was also asked if there any other charges coming against sitting or former lawmakers.

Nessel again noted the ongoing nature of the investigation, but said they were not charging additional public officials in the probe at this time.

She did say, however, that her office has investigated similar public corruption issues like the investigation into Unlock Michigan, and her office filing charges against the Minards, close former associates of Chatfield's who also allegedly misused funds.

"We were able to conduct this investigation and sort of peek behind the curtain because of these very serious allegations made by Chatfield's sister-in-law," she said. "But generally speaking, this was an uncommon fact pattern. Will you normally have the sister-in-law of a legislator make allegations of sexual assault and financial improprieties? I haven't seen that very often, and it happened here. You don't know unless you have a legal reason to look … (and with) other elected officials, we just don't know."

Detroit-Area Dems In Redrawn Districts Are Ready To Roll Despite Changes

Posted: March 3, 2024 1:42 PM

Detroit-area House Democrats who would see significant changes in districts redrawn last week by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission said in interviews that the new lines were surprising and somewhat disappointing, but they were ready to roll in terms of outreach in communities they don't currently represent.

Members of the commission on Wednesday voted to adopt a redrawn configuration of seven House districts that were thrown out by a federal three-judge panel because the ICRC drew those lines predominantly based on race, a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

The new map, titled Motown Sound FC E1, was submitted to the court before its March 1 deadline and will undergo review from a special master. A second special master was tapped to draw an alternative remedy map in the event the commission failed to meet its deadlines or if its new Detroit House map failed to meet muster with the court.

If the panel accepts the Motown Sound FC E1 map, it could mean some level of change, in some cases significant, to House districts 1 through 14. As far as the new map's potential impact on partisan control of the House, a new 13th District consisting of Roseville, central St. Clair Shores and eastern Warren has the potential to be competitive in a strong Republican year but leans Democratic. Otherwise, the changes have no effect on competitive seats, only redrawing solidly Democratic ones (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 28, 2024).

Among those most affected by drastic changes to their districts are Rep. Natalie Price (D-Berkley), Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit), Rep. Mike McFall (D-Hazel Park), Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), Rep. Veronica Paiz (D-Harper Woods) and Mai Xiong (D-Warren), who is likely to win a seat in the House this April.

Price and Paiz spoke with Gongwer News Service on Friday to react to some of those changes.

Price would lose the Detroit portion of her seat, as well as the Oak Park portion, and see her territory shift north, adding most of Royal Oak and all of Huntington Woods. Paiz's district also changes radically. She loses the St. Clair Shores portion and picks up the Grosse Pointes and a little more of Detroit than it has now.

Both said they were somewhat disappointed to see their districts potentially change.

"I love my current district," Price said. "This is my first term, and I have made a lot of effort to show up and get to know folks everywhere in my district. I'm attached, so that's one factor."

Paiz shared the same sentiment about being attached to her current community landscape.

"I really love my district the way it is now. I feel I've got a great bunch," Paiz said. "I keep my hometown, so that's wonderful, right off the bat. I just returned this morning from my monthly meeting with our St. Clair Shores seniors, and there's always a great turnout there. I get to hear about a lot of what's on their mind and they're just a good solid group. I love my Detroiters, too. So, this takes away my St. Clair Shorts part. Hopefully, I'm reelected, but I'll really miss them."

Paiz added that one of her constituents brought up the potential changes as she met with them on Friday.

"They're disappointed too, which is both comforting, but in a way it's sad," Paiz said.

Those feelings aside, both Price and Paiz said they were ready to take on whatever district is handed to them, be it through the commission's or the court's remedy map.

"I don't get any say in the process, or how this ends up, or what the districts will be, and again, this was my first term," Price said. "When I started, I learned how to show up and connect with my current district. I will show up and learn how to connect with a district I end up in."

Paiz said her familiarity with the surrounding area will help in her new territory.

"I lived in my Detroit constituent area years and years ago, in a couple of different areas there, Morningside actually, my family lived there," Paiz said. "I feel like I know the area, so that's a great thing. … I feel like I'm establishing relationships with them in Detroit and it's not intimidating to me."

She's also not intimidated by her added territory in the Grosse Pointes.

"Even though I haven't lived there, Grosse Pointe schools also have part of Harper Woods in the school system. I happen to live in the part of Harper Woods with the Grosse Pointe school district," Paiz added. "I think it's wonderful because we'll be keeping the school district together."

She said those relationships would need to be reestablished in the new areas, but she is ready for the task at hand.

Price has also contemplated how her potential district changes would affect her campaign strategy. She told Gongwer that she'd do the same things that got her elected in the first place, with the added benefit of having now served in the House for a full term.

"It is 'keep showing up and doing the work' and 'showing the truth,' which is that I care and will advocate for my constituents. That doesn't change," Price said. "I think that if I am doing my job well, it'll speak for itself and that will hopefully help voters feel the confidence that they need to put me back in office. That is the plan. The difference before is, again, this was my first term. I was running on my reputation as an engaged city council member. Now I'm running on the reputation as an engaged state representative. That's going to be the same no matter what my district is."

One potential wrinkle in the remedy mapping process was that the commission created several iterations of Detroit-area districts before landing on the Motown Sound FC E1 map. Some of the maps drew Paiz and Rep. Kimberly Edwards (D-Eastpointe) into the same district, while Price would have been drawn together with Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park).

If the court adopts the Motown Sound map, Price and Weiss would remain in separate districts, as would Edwards and Paiz.

All four said the lack of incumbent matchups in their areas was a relief, especially considering the Edwards-Paiz match would pit two women of color against each other (Edwards is Black and Paiz is Mexican).

Edwards told Gongwer that representation matters, and she's happy to see them both potentially keep their seats.

"None of us wants to run against each other," Edwards said. "I'm just glad we're not, because Latinos deserve to have representation just like African Americans deserve to have representation. I am kind of excited that we both still have opportunity to represent our district to the ability that we have already done. However, she and I both advocate for Michigan as a whole, not just our home district. We make sure our district is covered, but we also make sure to advocate for all things Michigan."

Edwards had a bit of an aha moment during the interview, and quipped that she should make that her campaign slogan.

Paiz also said she wanted to avoid a primary matchup with Edwards for the same reasons.

"Rep. Edwards and I have a really good, friendly relationship with each other, so we've been discussing these things, like maintaining the Latino representation because I'm the only one in the state House, and also maintaining the first Black woman representative in Macomb County," she said. "That was really concerning to us."

As they were both looking at the other maps, it had them thinking about moving away from areas where they've lived for nearly 25 years.

"I'm older, I'm 66, and so I was thinking, 'well, should I just retire, then? Or what should I do?" Paiz said. "Now I don't have to think about that. But yeah, there were a lot of discussions about that."

Weiss said she had similar considerations in play about a potential primary battle with Price.

"It's been hard watching this process and not knowing what the maps are really going to be, and not having a lot of time to figure out what we're going to do, depending on what the maps are" Weiss said. "Honestly, I think it's kind of miraculous that no incumbents were drawn together in the map that got voted out of the commission. It's not something they even look at or consider, and a lot of us do live pretty closely together. It was just by happenstance and chance that it didn't happen. I am pleased that is the case, because it was not the case the last time around."

Weiss added she was hopeful that she would be able to run in the same district one day without so many breakneck changes between the two terms, thanks to redistricting.

In a statement on changes to his district, McFall told Gongwer he was "glad to see the process moving forward."

"I will keep monitoring it as the process continues," he said. "Elections are the heart of democracy. I want every person in this state to have their voice heard – at the ballot box and in the halls of these legislative chambers."

MSU, VOTERS NOT POLITICIANS WEIGH IN: Non-partisan groups have also had a vested interest in how the new map would shake out incumbency wise.

Michigan State University's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research has been watching the drama unfold and analyzing the commission's work since it was seated in 2021. It has also criticized the commission for inadequacies with its maps over the process and given them praise when they've gotten it right.

IPPSR Director Matt Grossmann said the institute's researchers and staff members were "pleased that the commission responded to the court order by listening to the citizens of Detroit and quickly moving forward with a new map."

"I'm happy to say that we think it addresses the court's concerns, improves on the previous map, and will improve representation in Detroit and Southeast Michigan," Grossmann said. "IPPSR pledges its continuing support for this process and hopes to continue as a resource for the commission."

Voters Not Politicians, the group that was instrumental in crafting and advocating the constitutional amendment that created the commission, also weighed in on the Motown Sound map.

Like IPPSR, VNP has shared concerns and praise for the commission's work in the past. That was no different with the Motown Sound map.

In a release to VNP email subscribers, Director Jamie Lyons-Eddy said that some believed the commission could not get it done, but her group believed otherwise and kept the faith that the ICRC could put forth a working remedy map.

"This week, commissioners made small adjustments to Motown Sound, the map that was overwhelmingly supported during public comment, to make sure district boundaries respected Detroit neighborhoods as much as possible," Eddy wrote. "While the commission could have done better to improve partisan fairness, Voters Not Politicians agrees with the majority of commissioners that of the available options, the Motown Sound FC E1 map did the best job responding to public comment, addressing the issues identified by the court, and following constitutional criteria."

Court proceedings will continue through March in Agee v. Benson, the lawsuit that resulted in the redrawing of the Detroit House map. The plaintiffs have until March 8 to submit objections to the map, which they have already indicated they would do with proposed amendments. The commission must respond to those objections or amendments by March 15. A special reviewing master's report should be submitted by then, as well.

The panel has until March 29 to decide on which map to approve – the commission's or the special mapping master's work.

VRA-OK Maps Could Mean Significant Changes For Detroit House Reps

Posted: February 8, 2024 8:22 AM

Three new map plans for the city of Detroit's House Districts drawn late last week by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission could pit two representatives against each other in the Hamtramck area, would rearrange district territory around Birmingham and Royal Oak and significantly carve up the 13th District, currently the focus of a special election.

Members of the commission were ordered by a federal three-judge panel late last year to redraw House Districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14 in and around Detroit. The districts were challenged in the Agee v. Benson lawsuit. The panel found the seven districts violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause because the commission drew the districts with racial targets in an attempt to comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Those racial targets led the court to strike down the districts and ordered a redraw, which began in early January.

The commission over the past several weeks drew six maps without race as a consideration, but those maps, except for one configuration, did not comply with the VRA. Members worked to tweak the maps that were closest to meeting muster and produced three maps on Thursday that were VRA compliant.

Each of the nine maps are available to view on the commission's mapping and public comment portal. They were each completed before the panel's Friday deadline, and the maps will now move to a public comment phase until the end of the month.

Although the commission moved nine maps to give the residents of Detroit to choose from, compliance with the VRA is the second-ranked criteria in the Michigan Constitution for redistricting. None of the VRA-lacking maps would meet the court's muster even if they remedy the Equal Protection claims, so additional work will be needed on those maps if they were to advance to the proposal stage.

Maps in the running that are VRA-compliant include the Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk plans. Motown Sound is a derivative of the Spirit of Detroit map that moved on Wednesday, Riverwalk is a derivative of the initial Motown Sound map, and Willow is a modified version of the Water Lily map.

Each of those maps could be troublesome for a few representatives and no sweat for others, according to a Gongwer News Service analysis of the three maps.

For Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) the Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk maps would all keep him in the same district without major changes. The same was true of Rep. Tullio Liberati (D-Allen Park).

Rep. Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn) would also maintain much of the same territory with little change to his district boundaries. All three plans would see him trade much of the Detroit portion of his district to pick up northeast Dearborn. Farhat would also lose Melvindale under all three plans.

The Riverwalk plan would have Farhat lose the Gardenview Estates area of Detroit, while keeping much of the same territory as the Willow, which also cuts off Melvindale. Motown Sound is almost identical to Riverwalk in the shape of Farhat's new district except that it doesn't include a portion of Detroit south of Warren Avenue.

Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) would also be saved a total district overhaul, and she would be able to represent much of the same territory even as her district would contract upward across each of the three VRA-complaint plans.

Rep. Natalie Price (D-Berkley) would see changes across the Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk maps, but the configurations are almost identical, all major. Each of the plans draw her out of the current Hickory 5th District, which has a narrow north to south shape stretching from Birmingham into Detroit. All variations would have her run in the new 6th District unless she were to move to Oak Park.

The Willow map splits the current 5th and 6th districts horizontally rather than vertically in long spindly districts, with Price taking the upper half of Royal Oak, Berkley and most of Birmingham as a new 6th District, and Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) taking her hometown and a large swath of Detroit to the south of 8 Mile Road in a new 5th District.

The Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk plans each keep them in separate districts, preventing a potential incumbent vs. incumbent Democratic primary.

Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) would be drawn out of her district would represent much of the same territory, losing Royal Oak, keeping the whole of Ferndale and gaining more of Detroit to the south in both the Riverwalk and the Motown Sound plans. All three variations put her in a new 8th District.

The Willow plan could create a wrinkle for Scott as it draws her into Highland Park and Hamtramck and into the current and potential future territory of Rep. Abraham Aiyash.

Under Willow, the current 8th District would move away from turf represented by Rep. Mike McFall (D-Hazel Park) and shift downward, grabbing up Highland Park, Hamtramck, meaning McFall would have to run in the new 7th District under the Willow plan. That's territory currently represented by Scott.

Riverwalk would shift the 8th District westward and would no longer include Hazel Park. Under this plan, McFall would have to run in the new 14th District, which would include his hometown and most of Madison Heights, but also a huge chunk of Warren and the whole of Center Line.

The Motown Sound map mirrors the Riverwalk configuration for McFall.

Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) would be boxed out of a 9th District on the Willow map as it shifts downward taking up large portions of Detroit, essentially becoming much of the district currently represented by House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit). Aiyash's Hamtramck territory would become part of a new 8th District under the Willow plan, setting up a clash with Scott unless she moved, or vice versa.

Riverwalk would keep Aiyash in similar territory, losing a bit of his Detroit ground and keeping him away from Scott as a challenger. The same is true for the Motown Sound map.

Each of the VRA-complaint plans has Tate taking up a 9th District which would keep all of his Detroit territory but would lose all of his current Grosse Pointes ground.

The new 10th District would be an open seat under the Willow plan but could end up becoming a new seat for Rep. Veronica Paiz (D-Harper Woods) under the Riverwalk and Motown Sound plans.

Paiz would see the 11th District on the Willow map shift far to the west, putting her in a new 12th District take up half of lower Eastpointe, Harper Woods, and some of Detroit west of Grosse Pointe Woods. The northern half of Eastpointe where Edwards lives would become a new 13th District combined with Roseville and partis of Warren, potentially pitting her against whomever wins the upcoming special election in the 13th.

Paiz, however, would be drawn into the Grosse Pointes-centric new 10th District under the Riverwalk plan, which would include her Harper Woods and St. Clair Shores.

Motown Sound would also draw her into the Riverwalk configuration sans St. Clair Shores.

The Riverwalk and Motown Sound maps would keep Paiz and Edwards in separate districts, with the former keeping all of Eastpointe intact, including Detroit to the south and lacking any of Warren or Roseville; the latter would keep Edwards in Eastpointe, include some of Detroit, losing Warren but would a wide swath of southern St. Clair Shores

The current 13th District would see the most changes across the board and could complicate things for whomever wins the upcoming special election. Democrat Mai Xiong is a shoo-in for the seat, but that seat could look a lot different after she takes office.

The current Hickory 13th District would largely become a new 11th District under the Willow plan with its center at 9 Mile Road and Schoenherr Road, losing some of its Warren territory, picking up Center Line, while grabbing more of Detroit to the south and near Hamtramck. The new 13th District would include eastern Warren and Roseville, but not Eastpointe.

The current territory for the 13th District would be carved up significantly (and in almost exactly the same way) under the Motown Sound and Riverwalk plans. The district would siphoned off into a new 7th District (Highland Park, Hamtramck and Detroit), an 11th District (Detroit and Warren), a 13th District (Warren, Roseville, St. Clair Shores) and a new 14th District (Madison Heights, Hazel Park, parts of Warren and Centerline).

Rep. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) would represent much of the same territory but his district would contain less of Detroit to the south in the Willow plan. He would gain more ground to the east just south of Hazel Park, would lose some of Warren and Center Line to the east and would gain Madison Heights to the northwest.

The Riverwalk plan would see McKinney pick up pieces of Detroit to the south of Hazel Park, lose very little territory to the south like the Willow plan, maintain some of his Warren district to the north and would pick up more Detroit and a good chunk of southeastern Warren, as well.

The Motown Sound map offers McKinney the same outcome as the Riverwalk plan.

SCOTUS Dockets Redistricting Case, Fed Court Appoints Special Master

Posted: January 11, 2024 8:26 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court has docketed the ongoing appeal to a federal court's ruling that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created unconstitutional maps for the state House and Senate.

An application to stay the effects of a federal three-judge panel's ruling in Agee v. Benson was filed by the commission last week. The commission hopes the federal high court will hear the case and potentially overturn the holding. The case was docketed Thursday, taken up by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who oversees the 6th Circuit.

ICRC Commissioner Steve Lett announced movement in the case during the body's special meeting Thursday to determine how it would build remedy maps by February 2. Lett is the commission's legal liaison with its attorneys at Baker Hostetler.

Lett told commissioners that Kavanaugh has requested a response from the plaintiffs by January 17, fast tracking the case.

Attorney Richard Raile with Baker Hostetler asked the court to issue the stay while it prepares a direct appeal to the ruling. Raile also hoped the high court would promptly request oral arguments.

With the state's candidate filing deadline on April 23, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has asked the courts to act promptly to have remedy maps ready soon. The injunction placed on the defendants, both Benson and the commission, prevents the state from holding elections in the House and Senate districts in and around Detroit.

The three-judge panel of U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan and 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Raymond Kethledge and Janet Neff held the commission used race as a predominant factor when building Detroit's districts, a violation of residents' Equal Protection rights.

Meanwhile, the panel on Thursday issued an order to appoint a special master to draw remedy maps in case the commission fails to complete the task of creating a new House map – and one that meets muster – by February 2.

Michael Barber, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, was appointed as the mapping special master. Barber has until January 16 to notify the court if he can't participate or if there were any grounds for his disqualification. The court will have him build a House map while the commission attempts to do the same.

Bernard Grofman, a professor at University of California-Irvine, was appointed as a second special master to review the commission's completed House map.

The panel also issued a ruling in the same order regarding Baker Hostetler's new role as the commission's Voting Rights Act counsel after consultant Bruce Adelson terminated his contract with the commission in late December 2023.

There were concerns from the plaintiffs that attorney Mark Braden would offer advice to the commission but could later become a fact witness in any potential future litigation should the new maps pose different legal problems. Jennifer Green of Clark Hill, the plaintiffs' attorney, thought it would be a conflict if Braden is cross examined by a member of his own firm.

The panel said the plaintiffs' concerns were "well-founded, but not insuperable."

"As a rule, attorneys indeed should not testify as witnesses in cases in which they serve as advocates," the panel wrote. "That said, Braden is a well-respected attorney with long experience with the law relevant to the commission's upcoming work here. We will therefore permit his appointment as VRA counsel, notwithstanding the plaintiffs' objection, if Braden promptly discontinues his role as litigation counsel in this case, and Baker Hostetler implements an appropriate mechanism to prevent Braden and his colleagues at Baker Hostetler, going forward, from sharing any information regarding their respective work regarding this case."

– By Ben Solis

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