Supreme Court orders second look at Virgil Smith plea
Lansing – Former state Sen. Virgil Smith’s eligibility for Detroit City Council is in limbo after the Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered reconsideration of plea deal provisions designed to keep him out of office during his five years on probation.
Smith, who finished second in last week’s City Council primary and is headed to the general election ballot, resigned from the state Senate in March 2016 after shooting at his ex-wife’s Mercedes-Benz. He negotiated a plea deal with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office that included resignation and public office provisions struck down in circuit court.
The Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday granted Worthy’s request for immediate consideration of her appeal and directed the Court of Appeals panel to revisit earlier decisions from April and June, when a three-judge panel dismissed the case and declined to reconsider despite Smith’s City Council run.
The appeals court must rule again on the plea deal by Aug. 25, according to the new order. Any appeal of that decision must be filed back to the Supreme Court by Aug. 28.
Smith finished second in Detroit’s second district city council primary, beating out council president pro-tem George Cushingberry to advance to the November election.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is “pleased that the Michigan Supreme Court has asked the Court of Appeals to reconsider the important issues that we have raised in the Smith case,” spokeswoman Maria Miller said Tuesday. “Time is of the essence since the election ballots will be printed soon.”
Smith did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment. His appellate attorney Valerie Newman said Tuesday she was not surprised by the new order but expressed confidence in her client’s case.
“I think we know where the Court of Appeals stands,” she said, referencing previous orders, including a 2-1 June decision to deny Worthy’s initial motion for reconsideration.
“You never know what a court is going to do, but I feel strongly it’s the voters’ right to decide who they want to have represent them, and they should be given that opportunity, especially at this stage of things,” Newman said.
Worthy’s office had asked the Michigan Supreme Court for a decision by Aug. 22, identifying that date as the deadline to certify candidates for the November general election and get the ballot to the printer.
A quick ruling would allow Smith “to make an informed decision whether he will continue to run for office and, if he chooses to run, the voters casting ballots will be aware whether defendant will be violating the plea agreement if elected and that a special election would be necessary in the event defendant resigns or is removed from office,” Worthy said in an Aug. 10 filing.
Appeals Court judges Karen Hood and Deborah Servitto voted against reconsideration in June. The latter said it would be “fundamentally unfair” to set aside the plea deal. Judge Michael Riordan said the case should be remanded to a trial court to determine whether Smith voluntarily agreed to the plea deal.
Worthy’s office is asking the court to reinstate resignation and “bar-to-office” provisions of the plea agreement that were struck down in circuit court. Absent that, it wants the plea deal vacated, which could allow for additional charges against Smith.
“When the circuit court voided those provisions, the People had a right to withdraw the plea offer,” Worthy said in a filing. “The court denied the People their right, and in so doing invaded the prosecutor’s charging authority.”
Immediately after his conviction, Smith said he had no intention of running for city council. However, residents in District 2 convinced him to put his name on the ballot, he later said.
“Yes, I had reservations (about running) with all that’s going on,” Smith previously told The Detroit News. “I have learned some hard lessons and now I’m moving forward.”