Bill Bailey stands outside of the Antrim County Building in Bellaire on Sunday.

BELLAIRE — A widening circle of players in an Antrim County legal drama a court watcher labeled “election theater” will come together for the first time after a judge scheduled a pre-trial hearing in the case.

William Bailey filed suit Nov. 23, accusing the county of election fraud, a violation of the “purity of election clause” and said his constitutional rights had been violated after a marijuana ordinance proposal passed by a single vote. His case will return to court Tuesday after 13th Circuit Court Chief Judge Kevin Elsenheimer scheduled a third hearing in the case.

The fact Bailey, a realtor and member of the county’s planning commission, lives in Central Lake Township, not the Village of Central Lake Village where the ordinance proposal was on the ballot, was not raised in oral arguments Dec. 3.

The next day, Elsenheimer signed an order giving Bailey and his attorney, Matthew DePerno, access to the county’s voting machines for a forensic examination, which took place Dec. 6.

Initial reports from county officials said the Washington, D.C.-based security staff tasked with performing the exam were associated with Rudy Giuliani’s election-result-challenging legal team.

Before being hospitalized with COVID-19 the former New York City mayor tweeted widely on the issue. And local officials later adjusted their comments to say the two groups “may” be associated.

Giuliani joined President Donald Trump’s legal team in 2018, and his claims of widespread election fraud have been repeatedly rebuffed by lawmakers, the courts and recently Attorney General William Barr. His claims intensified after the president put Giuliani in charge of his post-election legal challenges.

Waiting in the wings, however, was Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, represented by two attorneys with the state’s Attorney General’s office, who filed an emergency motion signed by AG Dana Nessell, asking to be allowed to intervene in the case and be added as a named defendant.

Antrim County attorney Haider Kazim did not appear at the Thursday hearing where Judge Elsenheimer granted the SOS’s motion — the judge stated he not only agreed the state had standing to intervene, then added a reason for the motion the state had not argued.

“The court would add . . . that the Secretary of State is also party to a contract between itself, or the State of Michigan, and the Dominion Software organization . . . which provides it, I think, some basis in order to request intervention as the interest in distribution of the information that is in the Dominion machines, is certainly part of this lawsuit and has been discussed in some detail.”

Dominion Voting Systems supplies polling equipment in 28 states, and has been the subject of vigorous criticism from President Donald Trump and his surrogates following the Nov. 3 election.

In his order allowing the forensic examination, Elsenheimer included a restriction on the “use, distribution or manipulation of the forensic images and/or other information gleaned from the forensic investigation” without court permission.

Despite these restrictions, DePerno stated in court Thursday examiners had found voting tabulators with “unsecured data ports” and at least one missing magnetic security strip.

At one point more than 800 people attended the remote hearing, some making outlandish and crude remarks, immediately deleted by court staff, who later estimated average attendance on the judge’s public YouTube channel is between 30 and 50.

Rumors circulating Friday the AG’s office would pursue a gag order to keep DePerno from publicizing findings from the forensic examination were quickly tamped down in a press release issued at 5 p.m. Friday.

“In response to what appears to be a swirl of misinformation being circulated among Republican activists accusing the Department of Attorney General of suppressing information, Michigan Department of Attorney General Communications Director Kelly Rossman-McKinney issued the following statement:

“On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Attorney General filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in Bailey v Antrim County, currently before 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin A. Elsenheimer. Judge Elsenheimer granted the motion following a hearing yesterday. During that hearing, the plaintiff’s attorney indicated that the results of the inspection of the Antrim County tabulator being conducted by the plaintiff and his agents has not been completed. Therefore, NO information regarding the inspection has been made available to Judge Elsenheimer, Secretary Benson or the Department of Attorney General Dana Nessel. Further, this information is already subject to a protective order issued by Judge Elsenheimer.”

Meanwhile, at a Friday evening hearing in front of the Village of Central Lake Planning Commission, Kelly Young, a local business owner, sought approval to open an adult use marijuana dispensary in the village.

Despite ongoing legal action, Andrew Smith, clerk/treasurer of the Village of Central Lake said the ordinance passed and officials were proceeding accordingly.

Young was active in drafting the marijuana ordinance, has been pre-approved by the State of Michigan, is a CBD oil retailer at area farmers markets through Torch Cannabis Co. and runs a nonprofit providing cannabis products free to military veterans and others.

“I have a passion for this,” Young said, of her entry into marijuana oil and leaf retailing.

“I’m disappointed in the voting machine lawsuit because I feel like it’s a waste of our resources,” she added. “I have every confidence in Antrim County, they handled the errors with complete professionalism and fairness.”

Back on the main stage, the remote hearing in Bailey vs. Antrim County will take place Tuesday at 9 a.m. will be livestreamed on Judge Elsenheimer’s YouTube channel.

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