Prosecutors group says Whitmer orders are enforceable

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An association representing prosecuting attorneys across Michigan said Thursday Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders are still in effect and enforceable even without an emergency extension by the state Legislature. 

Because a state Court of Claims judge has yet to rule on a legal challenge of the emergency orders, the edicts remain in force, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan said in a Thursday statement.

Livingston County prosecutor William Vailliencourt.

The statement represents a "general consensus" of the association's membership, said Bill Vailliencourt, president for the association and prosecuting attorney for Livingston County.

"Like any law, it's presumed valid until a court says otherwise," Vailliencourt said. But he noted, when it comes to the executive orders, "our primary objective here is one of education and education is enforcement.”

The prosecutors' statement comes as Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens is scheduled Friday to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led Legislature against the governor and her emergency powers.

At least six county sheriffs and one prosecutor have said they will not enforce the orders. 

Antrim County Prosecutor Jim Rossiter said last week that he didn't plan to enforce the governor's orders, the Traverse City Record Eagle reported.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday the guidance should serve as confirmation of the orders for law enforcement who "have questioned their ability to enforce the governor's order."

“I join the county prosecutors in hoping that the court brings clarity to these issues soon," Nessel said." In the meantime, I stand with them as we work with local communities to overcome the challenges and hardships presented by COVID-19.” 

Prosecutors will continue to request police investigate violations and charge individuals when necessary. But prosecutors largely have worked with communities to educate individuals on the risks of COVID-19 and the limitations imposed by the governor’s executive order, the prosecuting association's statement said. 

“In extreme circumstances, after being warned and educated, prosecutors have had to exercise their discretion and issue criminal charges,” the statement said. “This has not been our preferred method on how to handle these alleged violations.”

The statement notes that prosecutors are eager for the judge to quickly decide the Legislature's case. 

“In the meantime, we must continue to work together as a community so that we can overcome the hardships and challenges COVID‐19 has presented," it said. 

The statement is signed by the association's five officers, including Vailliencourt, whose county has been one where the order has been questioned by law enforcement. 

Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy has said he will not enforce the governor’s order in part because of the uncertain legality of the emergency extension past April 30. 

Other counties where the order is not being enforced include Shiawassee, Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties.