TRAVERSE CITY — Gov. Rick Snyder’s office will take a wait and see approach before determining if Michael Estes can continue as mayor with a drunken-driving conviction.
Estes, 63, is scheduled for an arraignment today at 9:45 a.m. in Judge Michael Stepka’s courtroom on a misdemeanor operating while intoxicated charge.
A state law adopted in 1954 states the governor “shall remove” all elected city officers from office for, among other things, “convicted of being drunk.” But Snyder’s office doesn’t have any experience with the law and can’t address if the law would apply, a representative said.
“I’m not aware of any situation where this has happened,” said spokesman Dave Murray. “It’s certainly not occurred under Gov. Snyder’s term of office.”
Several steps still need to occur before the governor will even consider the matter, Murray said. First, Estes has to win re-election, and then he’ll need to be convicted of drunken driving. Then some person has to present evidence of the conviction to Snyder and petition him to remove Estes.
Should all those steps occur, Snyder will refer the matter to the state Attorney General’s office for review and a recommendation.
Joy Yearout, Attorney General Bill Schuette’s spokeswoman, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
City Commissioner Jeanine Easterday, who just returned from a trip to Japan, said she hopes Estes removal doesn’t come down to an act by the governor.
“If the mayor wins re-election and the writing is on the wall I would hope he would do the right thing,” Easterday said. “If the community is clamoring for (his resignation), I would hope he would do the right thing.”
Eighty-sixth District Court Judge Michael Haley, who didn’t comment on Estes’ case, said first-offense drunken driving arraignments give defendants an opportunity to plead, settle bond issues and address attorney arrangements.
He said judges handle their cases differently, but typically order a substance abuse assessment by Catholic Human Services at some point.
The evaluation dovetails with a presentence report by the court’s probation officer once a guilty plea or verdict is made. The report makes a recommendation based on the individual’s history, including criminal convictions. Estes pleaded guilty to reckless driving in 1994 and civil lawsuit from the following year alleged he was intoxicated during an Antrim County crash.
“It’s a face-to-face meeting where the discussion goes forward about defendant’s background,” Haley said. “They might talk about the assessment and the person is given the opportunity to comment on the assessment finding.”
Haley said jail time is uncommon in most first-offense sentences and individuals usually receive about a year of probation. He said judges may order substance abuse treatment or an educational class based on past history. Judges typically also order community service, fines and court costs during sentencing.