Michigan Supreme Court keeps Inman recall push alive

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The campaign to recall state Rep. Larry Inman notched a victory with the Michigan Supreme Court on Monday as the justices decided the recall shouldn't be tossed over typos.

But other challenges remain ahead for the campaign to unseat Inman, R-Williamsburg, including another court case and state election officials' belief that the campaign collected 94 fewer petition signatures than it needed to.

Inman, a third-term lawmaker, has faced charges of attempted extortion and solicitation of a bribe. On Dec. 10, a jury found Inman not guilty of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation but deadlocked on the two other charges, which remain unresolved.

Rep. Larry Inman, left, and his attorney, Chris Cooke, answer questions on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, after the second day of Inman's trial in Grand Rapids.

The effort to recall Inman was initially blocked because the language on its petitions didn't mirror language approved by state officials. The Michigan Court of Appeals sided with the Bureau of Elections and ruled on Dec. 20 that the language should have matched and state law didn't allow for typos.

The signed petitions circulated among voters mistakenly omitted a word from the language that was approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with the state Court of Appeals, saying the recall petition was "proper" because the reasons given for the recall in the circulated petition weren't different from the reasons approved by state officials.

The Michigan Secretary of State's office is anticipating the Court of Appeals will "provide further guidance on this petition," said Michael Doyle, the department's spokesman.

Michael Naughton, who's represented the recall campaign, called the high court's decision good for the state because it prevents recalls from being rejected over technicalities.

However, the recall push still faces a legal challenge from Inman that is pending in the Court of Appeals and the possibility that it didn't collect enough valid signatures.

Inman's challenge to the recall focuses on the fact the petitions mentioned his indictment, which Inman attorney Chris Cooke has described as an "unproven charging document."

"How can the official be guaranteed an impartial jury anywhere in the state of Michigan if a very public recall petition is allowed to be launched based on unproven allegations in an indictment?" Cooke wrote in a court filing.

The recall campaign submitted about 13,870 signatures and needed 12,201 of them to be valid. But the campaign was about 100 valid signatures short, Michigan elections director Sally Williams told the Board of State Canvassers on Friday.

An analysis by the Michigan Bureau of Elections said the recall campaign was 94 valid signatures short. It had submitted 825 signatures from individuals who weren't registered to vote and hundreds of other signatures were invalid because of errors.

But Naughton said he believes the campaign has enough valid signatures and the Michigan Supreme Court decision gives supporters the chance to determine it.

"We want to have the opportunity to be heard," Naughton said.

If a recall election were ordered, Inman would be the Republican nominee, Doyle said, because Inman didn't withdraw. The deadline for election officials to certify the March 10 ballot is Jan. 10, Doyle added.

Cooke has said the recall effort should end because it was based on an indictment that was ruled "defective" by the jury's verdict.

"It never should have been circulated in the first place," he said Dec. 10 of the recall petition.