Ex-assistant attorney general accused of relationship with victim denied unemployment

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — An administrative law judge denied an appeal for unemployment benefits last week from a former assistant attorney general accused of having an inappropriate relationship with the victim in a criminal sexual conduct case he was prosecuting. 

Brian Kolodziej resigned in early September when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office confronted him about the relationship. 

Brian Kolodziej resigned as assistant attorney general in early September when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office confronted him about a relationship with a victim.

Kolodziej's resignation occurred before Nessel’s office could fire him but came with the understanding that any future reference from Nessel’s office would indicate he was terminated, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Nessel’s office. 

On Dec. 30, the Unemployment Insurance Agency denied Kolodziej benefits based on rules disqualifying a person from the benefit program if he or she was “suspended or discharged for misconduct connected with the individual’s work.”

Administrative Law Judge Darryl Johnson upheld the state’s denial in a Jan. 22 ruling.

Kolodziej had damaged the department’s public image, Johnson wrote, and damaged criminal cases when he “embarked upon a months-long series of acts that even he realized might not be appropriate, and he kept it from his boss.”

Kolodziej argued that his relationship was consensual and “does not violate the rules of professional conduct,” according to Johnson’s ruling. He also contended, according the ruling, that the Department of Attorney General was responsible for its damaged image because it went public with information about his relationship.

Kolodziej's lawyer, Avis Choulagh, did not immediately return calls for comment. 

Kolodziej told the department’s Chief Operating Officer Christina Grossi in September that he had sought legal advice before beginning his four-month relationship with a victim in a Mount Pleasant sexual misconduct case, according the ruling.  

The relationship started in April, while the case was pending and before the suspect, Ian Elliot, pleaded no contest to a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge. Prior to the August plea deal, the victim still could have been called to testify in the case, Johnson said.

The lawyer Kolodziej consulted, who was not named in the ruling, had indicated the Rules of Professional Conduct included a “’gray area’ that should be researched further.” Kolodziej did not consult anyone in the Attorney General's office, Rossman-McKinney said.

“(Kolodziej) was asked why, if they believed this was a gray area to be researched, he opted to go ahead with a sexual affair with the witness,” Johnson wrote. “He would not answer the question, pleading the Fifth. He was unable to say when he or the other attorney began researching the ethics surrounding his affair, or how long they researched the question.”

Nonetheless, Kolodziej and the victim in the case went to Colorado in April “to avoid being seen by people who might know them,” Grossi told the judge.

After Kolodziej’s resignation, Nessel held a press conference to announce a Michigan State Police investigation into Kolodziej’s actions and an internal investigation to probe the department’s response to the matter. 

Elliott withdrew his guilty plea and reached a lesser plea with the department on Jan. 17. A separate Macomb County case that Kolodziej handled was dismissed without prejudice. 

The September press conference announcing the investigations, which Kolodziej said prompted more than 50 “media stories,” was held because the situation “put the employer in a negative light with the legal community, the public and MDHHS, and they wanted to show that they were not going to sweep his conduct under the rug,” Johnson wrote. 

Kolodziej asserted the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination several times throughout the hearing, citing ongoing Michigan State Police and Attorney Grievance Commission investigations. At other times, he “took the unusual tack of suggesting that the employer made the choice of reaching a different plea agreement” in the Elliott case, Johnson wrote.

“That tack did not help his case whatsoever,” Johnson said. “It is reminiscent of ‘victim blaming’ which has happened far too often in CSC cases. He blames the employer for taking those steps, and he seems unable to recognize that none of those steps would have been considered, much less necessary, if he had not pursued the relationship with Wilson.”