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Oakland County prosecutor calls probe request a 'rant'

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – — A shadowy citizens group asked the Michigan attorney general on Friday to investigate what it alleges is gross neglect of duty and malfeasance in office by Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper in her handling of concerns at the Novi's 52-1 District Court.

A five-page letter — The News received a copy on Friday — from Good Citizens Opposed to Political Shenanigansasks Attorney General Bill Schuette to explore whether Cooper acted properly regarding disputed cases before former Novi Judge Brian MacKenzie.

Cooper filed a complaint with the Oakland Circuit Court in September 2013 seeking superintending control over MacKenzie's docket, alleging he had mishandled domestic violence cases, breaking the law and violating court rules.

Cooper said MacKenzie sentenced and disposed of hundreds of cases before him without a prosecutor being present to object. In many cases, MacKenzie imposed alternative sentences to jail time. She said her office never received prior notice of the proceedings and did not receive a copy of the sentence, meaning she had no way to seek a rehearing later.

Oakland County District Judge Brian MacKenzie dislikes thinking of jail space when sentencing. "I put a lot of people in jail," he said.

On Friday, Cooper described the letter as a "five-page rant" and said allegations were better addressed in 1,100 pages of public record filed by her office with the Novi court, Oakland Circuit Court and the State Court Administrator's Office. Cooper said a Judicial Tenure Commission complaint she made about MacKenzie was "now muted since voters beat the Commission to the punch" — a reference to MacKenzie's failed re-election bid last November.

The letter alleges that Cooper's own pleadings reveal she:

¦Did not receive notices of sentencing hearings from the court yet failed to bring the matter to the attention of the Novi court until she filed the complaint.

¦Failed to attend or participate in hundreds if not thousands of sentencing hearings in the Novi court on criminal proceedings instituted by her office from 2009 through 2013.

¦Was not receiving orders or judgments of sentences from the Novi court in hundreds if not thousands of cases and failed to bring the matter to the attention of the court until she filed the complaint.

¦Was being denied access to cases dismissed in whole or in part pursuant to state law yet failed to bring the matter to the attention of the court during that time.

¦Neglected to monitor, track or investigate the disposition of those hundreds if not thousands of criminal cases her office brought

¦Failed to move for timely rehearing of sentences her office contends were illegal.

¦Failed to take a timely appeal of sentences her office contends were illegal.

"Imagine if your staff did not know of the disposition of even just one case that your office brought five months after the court disposed of the case, too late to seek rehearing and too late to appeal," said the letter to Schuette. "Your staff would be scouring your office's files and the court's files attempting to find out and address what happened to the notice and why your office had not received the order or judgment disposing of the case."

The request said "careful tracking and monitoring each case and each case's disposition is fundamental to the minimally competent practice of law" and alleges it is evidence of gross incompetence on Cooper's part.

GCOPS, based in Okemos, declined to respond to several questions from The News, including the size of its membership or names of any of its members. The group was formed last September, according to state filings.

MacKenzie, a veteran, award-winning jurist, was defeated in November by a former clerk, Travis Reeds, by a margin of 215 out of 47,445 total votes cast. MacKenzie could not be reached for comment Friday.

The investigation request comes the same week as Cooper's 2008 election opponent, T. David Law, was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to take over a vacant Novi seat left by Judge Dennis Powers. Powers retired last year amid a state Judicial Tenure Commission probe of alleged misconduct in office including filing bogus expense reports and repeated tardiness and absences on the bench.

The request also comes just weeks after state assistant attorney general Mike Goetz, a Republican, announced plans to run against Cooper, a Democrat, in the 2016 election. A fundraiser for Goetz, a Lake Orion resident, who worked in the prosecutor's office from 2002 to 2013, was held earlier this month in Bloomfield Township.

Elected state offices in Michigan, including prosecutors, are subject to supervision by Schuette's office in questions of misconduct. While rare, the governor has the power to inquire into concerns and either remove or suspend an official found in gross neglect of duty or corrupt conduct of office.

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