Court denies request for grand jury to investigate Schuette

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Republican

Lansing — Ingham County Circuit Court judges on Monday unanimously denied a request to form a one-person grand jury to investigate Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for using state staff for personal or political purposes.

Former Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano had petitioned the court for the probe last month, asking judges to launch an investigation amid Schuette’s campaign for governor.

In a brief order issued Monday, Chief Judge Richard Garcia said the full Ingham County Circuit Court bench considered the complaint but denied it. Garcia did not vote himself but told The Detroit News the six judges who did each independently determined a criminal investigation was not warranted. 

Ficano, a Democrat who is supporting Gretchen Whitmer for governor, said he was disappointed by the order but does not see any path to pursue an appeal against Schuette, the Republican nominee.

“It’s an order of the court, and I respect an order of the court,” he said.

Ficano, who lost re-election in 2014 amid his own ethics scandals, had asked for a grand jury to investigate Schuette for using state government staff to sign real estate transactions and for hiring former campaign staff to state jobs.

Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely called Ficano's request a "a politically motivated attack on the attorney general" that has no merit, "and the Ingham County judges saw through the charade."

"The rule of law matters, and political games are a waste of resources for the Ingham County courts," Bitely added.

As The News reported in May, Schuette used state staffers in his office as signed witnesses and notaries on at least four private real estate transactions in the Virgin Islands, including deed transfers on two separate properties sold for $1.8 million each.

“Normally if these issues are brought against a state employee, they’re investigated by the attorney general,” Ficano said. “He’s obviously not going to investigate himself. It’s a conflict, and I think there should be some mechanism of independent review.”

Judge Garcia said requests for a one-person grand jury are rare.

"You get a request every year or two, and generally it's as a result of somebody feeling frustrated that the normal channels aren't going to work for them," he said. "I don't know. It's not common."

Ingham County Prosecutor Caron Siemon referred a separate but similar request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July. The FBI has not indicated whether it has or plans to investigate Schuette.

The Midland Republican won the Aug. 7 GOP gubernatorial primary despite stinging criticism from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Republican rival who called on the attorney general to “end the cover up or resign” after it was revealed Schuette used his government office to discuss a national political convention.

The Michigan Ethics Act of 1973 requires that state officials and employees only use personal resources and property “in accordance with prescribed constitutional, statutory, and regulatory procedures and not for personal gain or benefit.” Violations are considered civil — not criminal — infractions punishable by fines.