Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 14, 2010

Prosecutor: Little chance of charge in Meijer case

"Slim." That's how Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider referred to the likelihood of criminal charges against any Meijer Inc. official for campaign finance violations.

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — "Slim." That's how Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider referred to the likelihood of criminal charges against any Meijer Inc. official for campaign finance violations.

Schneider awaits a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court to see if he can even investigate alleged criminal violations of state campaign law committed by Meijer officials and its agents in Acme Township elections in 2005 and 2007.

"I'm not even sure why Meijer is still in this case," Schneider said. "The potential for anybody at Meijer getting charged is slim."

Schneider acknowledged it will be difficult to prove his case, and that most, if not all, of the people directly involved in Meijer's efforts to subvert two township elections no longer work for the company.

"I don't have any information of anyone currently employed at Meijer committing a knowing violation of the act," Schneider said.

The case began in 2008, when Schneider sought investigative subpoenas to compel documents and testimony from employees of Meijer and its law firm, Dickinson Wright PLLC.

Schneider hoped such testimony and documents would show Meijer and Dickinson Wright officials knowingly used corporate funds to influence a 2007 recall election in Acme Township, a felony violation of the campaign finance act.

Meijer objected to the investigative subpoenas, based on its assertion that only Michigan's Secretary of State can investigate campaign finance act violations. Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers agreed, but a state appellate court overturned his decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declared in an unrelated case that it's unconstitutional to ban corporate political contributions. The ruling eliminated potential felony charges in the Meijer case, and with it Schneider's authority to compel testimony through subpoenas.

Meijer and Schneider now both agree Michigan's top court should dismiss the case. The difference is Meijer wants state supreme court justices to first overturn the appeals court ruling, while Schneider wants it to stand.

Schneider still wants to investigate misdemeanor violations potentially committed by Meijer and Dickinson Wright employees. But his inability to force testimony from unwilling witnesses will make it difficult to show a "knowing" criminal violation.