Ex-Sen. Smith files to run for Detroit council

Jonathan Oosting, and Christine Ferretti

Former state Sen. Virgil Smith wants to run for Detroit City Council, a bid the Michigan Court of Appeals left open in a surprise ruling that suggested he “appears to have no intention of running for public office” while on probation.

Smith resigned from office last year and spent nearly 10 months in jail after firing an assault rifle at his ex-wife’s car. But he pulled petitions for a potential council bid in District 2 on April 7 and turned them in Tuesday for review, the Detroit Department of Elections confirmed Wednesday.

If the petitions are approved, Smith would qualify to run against City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry, a former state lawmaker himself who had his law license suspended for taking a client’s money and providing no services.

The Detroit Democrat’s plan to run for a council seat was a move the three judges on the appeals court panel appeared unaware of. In an opinion handed down Tuesday, they unanimously rejected a bid by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to void a plea deal with Smith, a decision her office plans to challenge again.

The original deal required Smith to resign from the state Senate and refrain from holding public office during his five-year probationary period. The trial court judge tossed out those provisions as an unconstitutional restriction on the people’s right to choose their elected officials.

Smith resigned anyway and went to prison last spring.

“Because defendant voluntarily resigned his seat and appears to have no intention of running for public office during his term of probation, we decline to address the issues regarding the voiding of the plea agreement as moot,” Judges Michael Riordan, Karen Fort Hood and Deborah Servitto said in their ruling.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office plans to ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling since Smith has filed his petitions to run for a seat on the Detroit City Council, said spokeswoman Maria Miller.

The prosecutor’s office “is not aware of any statement from Mr. Smith indicating that he would not run for office,” Miller said in an email.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the court wrote that allowing Worthy’s office to withdraw the plea now would give prosecutors an unfair advantage in negotiating a new deal, noting Smith already revealed the location of the weapon he used during the crime as part of the original agreement.

Smith has not gone unpunished, the judges said in their ruling. He was required to spend 10 months in Wayne County jail, five years on probation, submit to alcohol and drug treatment and a mental health evaluation.

“While we agree that it was an abuse of discretion by the trial court to deny the prosecution’s motion to vacate the plea as soon as the trial court expressed its unwillingness to accept the terms of the agreement, granting such relief after the majority of the terms of the agreement have been fulfilled would be fundamentally unfair,” the judges wrote.