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A Republican group's attack ad about an 8-year-old case that involved a teenage dancer at a Detroit adult club is inflaming a heated attorney general's race between Democrat Dana Nessel and Republican Tom Leonard.

The campaign ad titled “Disturbing” features Shiawassee County Prosecutor Deana Finnegan denouncing Nessel’s defense of a Detroit strip club after a 15-year-old mentally handicapped girl was found performing there.  

“I’ve looked closely at Dana Nessel’s record and it's disturbing,” Finnegan said in the ad. “Crimes against children are the worst type.”

The allegations in the ad are false and violate the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct for licensed attorneys, which require lawyers to practice with “civility and honesty,” Nessel’s lawyer, Wade Fink, wrote in a letter addressed to Finnegan and copied to Leonard and the Michigan Freedom Fund.

The Michigan Freedom Fund super political action committee was formed by the Republican Attorneys General Association. Since August, the committee has received roughly $985,000 in contributions, largely from out-of-state companies.

In the letter, Fink informed the mid-Michigan prosecutor his office plans to file a formal grievance with the Attorney Grievance Commission against Finnegan and demanded that the ad be taken down.

“You describe in crass terms, designed to outrage what you cynically view as an uninformed public, that Ms. Nessel’s work for the accused somehow reflects negatively on Ms. Nessel’s character,” Fink wrote. “These statements were clearly designed to inflame passions and encourage the conclusion that somehow being a criminal defense attorney makes one unfit to be Attorney General.”

The ad also targets “Nessel’s former law firm” in citing law partner Chris Kessel’s defense of accused sex offenders. Nessel and Kessel Law consists of two separate firms that operate under a joint DBA or doing business as, but Kessel has sole ownership and control of the website.

Finnegan did not return messages left at her office.

Leonard was not involved with the ad, his spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.  But he said the pushback on the ad shows “Nessel is ashamed of her record.”

The Republican Attorneys General Association stuck by the messaging in a statement sent to The Detroit News. 

“This is a publicity stunt from a flailing campaign," said Zack Roday a spokesman for the group. "Dana knows the ad is right, she defended a strip club where a 15-year-old girl was allowed to dance. She just wants to stop that disturbing fact from getting out."

Detroit News articles related to the July 2010 incident name Nessel as an attorney for a Detroit strip club named Club Onyx when a 15-year-old girl was arrested for dancing there. Police had arrested the girl months prior for dancing at a different strip club.

Two employees arrested in the July incident were released shortly after their arrest.

Nessel told The Detroit News in 2010 that the club was cooperating with police and had “requested members of the police department to come in and give lectures” to the club staff. Another lawyer for the club speculated that the incident had been a set up by police or others.

The girl later pleaded guilty in juvenile court to violating probation in connection with the incident. She was on intensive probation for school truancy, according to Detroit News archives.

The News articles never mentioned the girl was “mentally handicapped,” but other media outlets said the girl had "mild retardation."

Earlier this year, Nessel told The News that Club Onyx had hired her to ensure no minors could enter or dance there and that she had collaborated with police to achieve as much.

Police never requested any criminal charges in relation to the case, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told The News Thursday.

The Detroit Police Department did not respond to an email seeking comment.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

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