TRAVERSE CITY -- The wait continues for an appellate court decision that could potentially reveal who orchestrated election tampering in Acme Township.
Civil suits by Acme officials against Meijer Inc. and the Village at Grand Traverse LLC took center stage over the last three years while a possible criminal investigation loomed in the background, awaiting a decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals that could come any day.
The civil suits settled without identifying who authorized and participated in the manipulation of two Acme Township elections acknowledged by Meijer Inc. in a settlement in May of 2008 with Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider wants to pursue criminal charges against corporate decision-makers and others involved in the 2005 and 2007 elections. But 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers last year ruled Michigan's campaign finance law limits enforcement to Michigan's secretary of state and attorney general offices.
"I'd be delighted to be told I was wrong," said Rodgers, who also oversaw the Meijer civil litigation.
The state Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Sept. 2 and area attorneys said decisions from the court usually follow such proceedings within several weeks.
Meijer attorneys argued language in the Michigan Campaign Finance Act gives exclusive jurisdiction to enforce the law to the secretary of state office. Schneider countered the state act defines the duties and obligations of the secretary of state to enforce the law, but does not nullify the authority of local prosecutors to pursue possible violations.
Schneider said other factors could delay a decision. If the court decides to issue an authored opinion signed by the judges it generally takes longer and is more detailed, compared to an unauthored opinion.
The three judges reviewing the case, Karen Fort Hood, Elizabeth Gleicher and Kathleen Jansen, come from southeast Michigan. The panel received high marks from Paul Brink, an attorney and member of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township that's been part of some civil proceedings against Meijer. Brink said he was impressed by the panel's questions and grasp of the issues.
"I agree with Mr. Schneider's arguments that Michigan law should not be interpreted that the secretary of state can usurp the power of the law enforcement arm of the government to investigate and prosecute felonies," Brink said.
Schneider said he thought the panel directed more-probing questions at Meijer attorney John D. Pirich, and is cautiously optimistic he will prevail.
Pirich did not return a message left at his office Wednesday.
Regardless of the outcome, however, Schneider said the case won't be over.
"If the decision goes against us we'll appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court and I assume if the issue goes against them (Meijer) will appeal," Schneider said.