GRAND RAPIDS — A federal judge on Friday denied a motion to dismiss one felony charge against GOP state Rep. Larry Inman — but put on hold two others pending his written opinion on the charges.
U.S. District Chief Judge Robert Jonker ruled there’s “no basis for dismissal” of a charge Inman lied to the FBI.
But Jonker said he would rule later on charges contained in a May indictment that Inman also committed bribery and extortion for allegedly soliciting money in exchange for a vote.
His lawyer, Chris Cooke, asked to have all charges thrown out.
Prosecutors allege Inman asked for a campaign donation exceeding $5,000 in exchange for a vote against the prevailing wage repeal — a move popular with Republicans and unpopular with unions, as the law required union-scale wages and benefits be paid on state construction projects.
“My suggestion is you need to get people maxed out” on contributions, Inman wrote in one text to a representative of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union days before the repeal vote in June 2018, prosecutors allege. “We never had this discussion,” Inman wrote at the end of the message.
The indictment cites two more text messages from Inman — who represents Grand Traverse County — seeking donations from the union representative. The union did not donate after receiving his text messages.
But citing prior cases, Jonker said he was concerned the government case against Inman could stand on the right of law enforcement to “scrutinize every vote” by legislators for possible legal violations.
Jonker said the case also raised possible First Amendment issues related to free expression.
“That’s really what I am most worried about.”
Jonker gave Cooke and prosecutors 21 days to file briefs on the issue.
Prosecutors also allege an FBI agent later asked Inman about the text messages and that he lied, denying he had any communication with a union representative asking for campaign contributions. Inman later said in an interview with Bridge that he doesn’t deny writing the text messages.
GOP House Speaker Lee Chatfield stripped Inman of his committee assignmentsand has called for resignation. House Republicans voted to remove him from their caucus, which means he is cut out of closed-door sessions in which lawmakers strategize on bills and policy.
Inman has not been to a legislative session since his indictment.
Inman’s lawyers said in a June press release he would be seeking treatment for opioid addiction and that “his physicians will continue to evaluate his ability to effectively serve his constituency as his treatment progresses.”
In the meantime, Inman faces potential recall, after a state elections board on Aug. 1 approved a recall petitionfor Inman. The group seeking his recall will need to collect at least 12,201 signatures from voters to put the measure on the ballot.
Outside the courtroom, Cooke said Friday he hasn’t decided whether to appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals to block the recall. Under state law, he would have to file that appeal within 10 days of the petition approval.
Michael Naughton, an attorney behind the recall petition, said Friday’s proceedings will not impede the recall effort.
“Everything goes forward,” he said.