Virgil Smith misses 4th Senate session

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Detroit Sen. Virgil Smith missed a fourth legislative session Tuesday, his status essentially on hold while he awaits further court proceedings on charges from a shooting incident outside his home.

Smith, whose Senate office is locked, was released on bond a week ago. Members of the Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses, including Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, were deflecting questions about him Tuesday as business went on as usual.

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said members of Smith’s state-paid office staff had been moved to the Senate’s main business office across the street.

McCann said the change was made at the request of Ananich, who has advised Smith to consider whether he can continue representing his legislative district while dealing with the charges against him.

Smith, 35, is charged with felonious assault; malicious destruction of personal property worth $20,000 or more; domestic violence assault and battery; and felony firearm. He’s accused of shooting up the car of his ex-wife, Anistia Thomas, in a dispute late May 9 or early May 10 at his home.

The second-term Democratic senator is expected back in court Friday for a probable cause hearing on the charges before 36th District Court Judge Michael E. Wagner.

Ananich also has relieved Smith of his committee assignments and duties as assistant caucus whip.

Nothing else has changed regarding Smith’s status so far, McCann said.

Meekhof and other colleagues have said Smith should consider stepping down because of the seriousness of the charges. But members of the Legislative Black Caucus urged patience and noted that, by law, Smith remains innocent unless proven guilty.

The Senate has the power to remove members but there is no set timetable for doing so. Smith’s four days of absence are minor compared with past lawmakers who weren’t able to attend owing to illness.

Sen. Jackie Vaughn of Detroit, a veteran of more than 30 years as a lawmaker when he suffered a stroke in 2000, missed numerous sessions before leaving the Senate in 2002 under the state term limits law. He died in 2006.

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