Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 19, 2010

Supreme Court delays Meijer arguments

State's top court will consider case in January

By Bill O'Brien
bobrien@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider will have to wait a bit longer for his day before the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court postponed arguments in 18 cases until January, when a newly elected justice comes aboard and conservatives return to majority status. One of the cases set for review is a 2009 appellate court ruling that permitted Schneider to investigate criminal violations of state campaign finance law committed by Meijer Inc. and others in Acme Township from 2005 to 2007.

Meijer wants the Supreme Court to overturn last year's appeals court decision.

"I'm a little disappointed it's been postponed once again," Schneider said. "It's been a long time coming."

The state's high court is scheduled to hear criminal appeals, medical-malpractice claims, business litigation and personal-injury disputes in early 2011. In 10 of the 18 cases, including Schneider's campaign finance case, the court will hear arguments to determine whether it should take an appeal of an order from a lower court.

The cases were supposed to be argued next month, but they wouldn't be resolved by the time Justice Alton Davis leaves the court on Jan. 1. Davis, an appellate judge, was appointed to fill a vacancy created when Justice Elizabeth Weaver resigned in August.

Davis this month finished third in a five-candidate race for two seats on the Supreme Court.

Justice Robert Young Jr. was re-elected and Wayne County Judge Mary Beth Kelly won a seat, putting Republicans in a 4 to 3 majority.

Schneider said he didn't know how the court's shake-up might impact his case, or whether he faces longer odds in light of the Republicans' new majority. He said it won't alter his preparation, and added the high court may decide to let the appellate ruling stand.

"I don't pretend to have an idea on where the justices might fall on this issue," he said. "My point of view is that if we stick to a strict statutory interpretation, I should prevail."

The state Supreme Court election came under scrutiny because of an estimated $4.5 million in untraceable donations for television ads backing Young and Kelly, and another $2.6 million from unknown sources to support Democratic nominees. A court brief filed by the Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, a local group that backs Schneider's efforts to investigate the Acme elections, noted Dickinson Wright PLLC law firm donated more than $17,000 to Young's campaign.

Dickinson Wright is Meijer's former law firm in the Acme zoning dispute, and a potential target of Schneider's criminal probe.

Schneider said he doesn't believe the law firm's political money should force Young to step away.

"I try not to get too cynical about these things ... it takes money to get elected," he said. "But I don't think any allegiance comes with something like that."

Schneider said he has his own ties to Young.

"Justice Young called me for an endorsement, and I gave him one," Schneider said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.