Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 6, 2010

Prosecutor delays Meijer Inc. probe

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY

TRAVERSE CITY -- A local prosecutor won't proceed with a criminal probe of state campaign violations Meijer Inc. committed in Acme Township until the Michigan Supreme Court decides Meijer's appeal of a lower court ruling.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider said Tuesday he believes he wrongly interpreted court rules when he discussed his pending investigation for a story in Tuesday's Record-Eagle. Schneider on Monday said he'd be able to go ahead with a criminal investigation of Meijer, despite the retailer's pending appeal.

"I'm sorry about the misinformation, usually we're dealing with appeals from defendants; nothing like this," Schneider said.

The case is sort of a hybrid, Schneider said, in effect a civil appeal of a criminal matter. He believes court rules prevent him from further investigating until the high court decides the issue.

Meijer and its former law firm, Dickinson Wright PLLC, filed applications to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court on Monday. The two firms want the high court to overturn a Nov. 19 appeals court decision granting county prosecutors authority to enforce campaign finance laws.

The Supreme Court won't begin its review of the application until Feb. 2, and can take anywhere from two to six months to decide if it will hear the appeal, Schneider said.

Meijer's lead attorney, John Pirich, did not return calls seeking comment.

The appeals court returned the case to 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers for further proceedings. Rodgers ruled in April 2008 that enforcement of campaign violations solely rests with the secretary of state.

Schneider said he discovered his apparent error Tuesday morning as he began to prepare a motion to compel answers to outstanding investigative subpoenas.

Cases that meet certain criteria remanded from the appeals court to the trial court are automatically stayed, or suspended, until the Supreme Court disposes of the case.

Several attorneys contacted by the Record-Eagle offered differing opinions on whether the Meijer case qualifies for an automatic suspension.

"Court rules are never quite clear," said Hal Carroll, an appellate law specialist from Oakland County. "I don't think this would be an automatic stay."

Schneider, aware of the disagreements, said he'll wait all the same.

Acme Township Trustee Ron Hardin said he's sorry to see the case linger without resolution, though he's not surprised by the appeals.

"It's in Meijer's best interest to drag this on. Fatigue really can play a role," Hardin said. "I hope it doesn't keep him from pursuing it. I think its' the last chance to find out who is responsible for what."