State Sen. Smith sent to jail without resigning seat
State Sen. Virgil Smith went to jail Monday — without resigning his seat — to begin serving a 10-month sentence for shooting at his ex-wife’s car.
Wayne County Judge Lawrence Talon denied the Wayne County prosecutor’s motion to pull Smith’s plea deal off the table after Talon said he would not enforce the portion of it that would have the Detroit Democrat step down from the Legislature.
Smith looked somber as he was led to jail from Circuit Court. Talon refused a request by his parents to hug their son before he was taken into custody. Talon said he had to treat the state Senator as he would any other defendant.
No handcuffs were placed on the state lawmaker before he was led from the courtroom. He also must serve five years of probation for malicious destruction of property over $20,000.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office plans to appeal Talon’s Monday ruling.
“We believe that the law supports that the agreement remains conditional until all the terms of the agreement are fulfilled. Prosecutor (Kym) Worthy will appeal the court’s ruling because the defendant did not fulfill his part of the plea agreement by resigning his elected position,” said Maria Miller, the prosecutor’s spokeswoman.
Smith informed Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof’s office Friday that he intended to resign if he was remanded to jail Monday, Meekhof spokeswoman Amber McCann said.
“We haven’t received anything yet,” McCann said late Monday afternoon. “The majority leader expects to receive something shortly.”
Senate leaders have said that if Smith doesn’t step down from his seat they would look to begin hearings to expel him from the chamber.
In order to resign, Smith would have to submit a written letter of resignation to Senate Secretary Jeff Cobb, McCann said.
The Michigan Legislature just began a two-week spring recess.
Even if Smith did submit a resignation letter this week, it would not be official until the letter could be read aloud during the next legislative session day, which is April 12, McCann said.
The Michigan Freedom Fund citizens’ group demanded Ananich begin the expulsion process to remove Smith from office.
“At this moment, the people of Detroit are being represented by a convicted felon serving a 10-month jail sentence for opening fire on his ex-wife’s car with an AR-15,” Freedom Fund President Terri Reid said. “Jim Ananich can no longer allow his fellow Democrat to serve in the Senate, and he simply cannot expect taxpayers to pick up the tab for Senate Democrats’ partisan refusal to hold their own member accountable.”
Resigning his seat was part of the plea deal Smith had worked out with prosecutors, but Talon said he did not have the power to enforce a resignation.
Before Talon ruled, Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey asked him to allow her office to scuttle the agreement so it could “retool” a new deal. But Smith’s co-counsel, Godfrey Dillard, objected saying Smith had already pleaded guilty and agreed to the deal. Dillard said the prosecutor did not have the authority to force his client to resign.
“The real question is does the prosecutor have the authority and the power to remove a person from office,” Dillard said Monday. “We think that power resides with the legislator and with the citizenry of the senator’s district. Sen. Smith’s desire not to resign is not out of any kind of vanity or snubbing his nose at anyone. This gives him an opportunity to stand on principle ... a very important principle. Can an executive branch exceed its authority.”
Lindsey accused Dillard of “talking out of both sides of his neck” and that he and Smith did not keep their word about the lawmaker quitting. . She said Dillard helped hammer out the plea agreement and is “taking advantage” of Talon’s ruling on the resignation question.
“I thought and Prosecutor Worthy thought Mr. Dillard was a man of his word and we thought that Virgil Smith was a man of his word when they said they were going to do those things,” Lindsey said. “Obviously, we were wrong.”
Smith was allowed to plead guilty to malicious destruction for firing shots at his ex-wife’s Mercedes Benz in May 2015. The charge, a felony, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Charges of felonious assault, felony firearm and domestic violence were dropped as part of the plea deal.
Smith’s ex-wife, Anistia Thomas, allegedly got into a fight with him after she went to his eastside home in the 18000 block of Wexford and found another woman, naked, in his bed. A fight ensued and continued outside the home where Smith is said to have pointed an AR-15 at her and then shot more than 20 rounds at her car. The weapon was surrendered to police as part of the plea agreement.
Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.