TRAVERSE CITY — Former Jail Administrator Todd Ritter remains free on bond, after the Attorney General’s office provided discovery documents in excess of 1,000 pages to Ritter’s attorney.
A preliminary exam in 86th District Court on Thursday was adjourned by Judge Michael Stepka to allow Shawn Worden of 360 Law, time to read the documents.
Ritter, of Traverse City, is charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with multiple variables, embezzlement by a public official, larceny in a building, common law offenses and willful neglect of duty, related to his tenure as administrator of Grand Traverse County’s jail.
Ritter, free on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond, had requested a court-appointed attorney at his arraignment Aug. 14 and Worden has so far accepted the assignment.
“This case took a while to be appointed,” Worden told the court. “Apparently there are issues with conflict of interest that, quite frankly, I’m still exploring but I am comfortable handling it at this point.”
The real reason for the adjournment is more than 1,000 paper pages of discovery and three CDs with several thousand more documents attached to them that Worden received on Monday, he said.
Worden said he’d need at least three weeks to get prepared for a preliminary examination, though Judge Stepka said because a full day may be needed, it could be a month before an opening could be found on the court’s schedule.
“There are a lot of different accounts, the accounts are necessarily related to one another, so there’s going to be a lot of witnesses,” Worden said.
A preliminary exam puts the burden of probable cause to move a case to trial upon the prosecution — in this case, Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark, who told the court she had no objection to the adjournment.
“Judge, I don’t have an objection to the adjournment and quite frankly I’d expected it,” Hagaman-Clark said. “I discussed this matter with Mr. Worden yesterday and I believe he has all the discovery at this point that we have.”
Hagaman-Clark predicted it would be a “lengthy” exam. Paul Jarboe, coordinator of the Michigan Indigent Defense Council in Grand Traverse and Antrim counties, previously said as many as 60 witnesses were interviewed as part of the investigation.
In 2019, Hagaman-Clark prosecuted William Strampel, former dean of Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, on misconduct and sexual assault charges, as well as his mishandling of complaints against former Michigan State University sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar.
She also prosecuted former MSU gymnastics coach Kathy Klages for lying to police when she said she had no memory of gymnasts complaining about Nassar. Strampel and Klages were both found guilty and served time in jail.
Worden represented Karl Hartman, former Kingsley Area School principal and teacher who pleaded guilty in 2019 to assault with intent to commit sexual assault, and former Traverse City Police Capt. Mike Ayling, who was acquitted of a misdemeanor charge in 2015.
In March Hagaman-Clark was assigned to review the case, after Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg requested the AG’s office assign a special prosecutor. Moeggenberg’s office spent at least 8 months reviewing the case, after the Michigan State Police investigated.
Ritter had a 20-plus-year history with the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department when he was forced to resign April 11, 2019, after an internal investigation found lewd text messages and explicit photographs of former and current inmates on his department-issued cellphone and laptop, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
Undersheriff Mike Shea investigated complaints about Ritter made to him by corrections officers and Sheriff Tom Bensley tasked a local attorney, Janis Adams, with conducting a second internal investigation.
“My only comment would be that I think it’s going to be quite a while yet before its over and done with,” Bensley said, following the arraignment Thursday. “Especially with the information that was presented today,” he added, regarding the voluminous discovery documents.