Michigan lawmaker tells court she remains scared of state House colleague

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan state Rep. Mari Manoogian told a judge Friday that she's fearful of "retaliatory behavior" from Rep. Steve Marino after she went public with claims that her colleague threatened and mistreated her.

"I'm very scared," Manoogian, a Democrat from Birmingham, said during a court hearing in Ingham County. "I don't know how else to say it. ... I am very scared."

State Rep. Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township, was removed from his committee assignments after state Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, accused him of sending threatening text messages.

But Marino's lawyer, Mike Rataj, labeled the allegations "absolute nonsense" and "a huge waste of judicial resources" during Friday's hearing. At one point, Rataj said there's no evidence to support the idea that Manoogian is an "abused person."

During a hearing that went for about four hours, Judge Lisa McCormick weighed whether to continue a personal protection order that Manoogian secured against Marino, a Harrison Township Republican lawmaker with whom she previously had a romantic relationship.

McCormick plans to issue a written decision in the future.

The lawmakers' romantic relationship collapsed at the end 2019, and their friendship fell apart earlier this year. After Marino sent text messages that Manoogian viewed as threatening, she successfully sought a personal protection order in mid-September.

The order bars Marino, 32, from being in the same room with Manoogian, 29, but Republican House leadership and Manoogian agreed to an arrangement that allowed Marino to attend House session with a security escort.

Manoogian testified and answered attorneys' questions for much of Friday's hearing. Marino didn't take the stand.

The case focuses on thousands of text messages between the two lawmakers over a two-year period. Not all of the communications have been made public.

In the spring of 2020, Manoogian alleged, Marino became "emotionally abusive." Manoogian also testified that she saw Marino abuse his dog, named Shadow. Marino struck his dog with a belt and left the dog in a stall shower for hours.

"I encouraged him to get the dog because I didn't want him to be alone," Manoogian said.

Michigan State Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham

On Sept. 9, she received a text message about the dog being sick. Angry, Marino told Manoogian that he would try to destroy the Democratic lawmaker and that she was a parasite, she said.

The message was a threat to her ability to make a living, Manoogian said.

In another message, Marino said he hoped Manoogian's car would explode. Manoogian said she thinks about the statement every time she turns on her car. She also said she's more fearful of Marino now than before.

The Michigan State Police investigated the texts and forwarded their report to Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, whose office declined criminal charges in late October.

On Friday, Rataj argued that the messages weren't sufficient to continue a protection order against Marino, noting that the Republican had never said he would ensure that her car would blow up.

"You've used that language, right?" Rataj asked Manoogian. "You've told people, 'I hope you drop dead, correct?

"There's no difference is there? I hope you drop dead and I hope your car blows up, it's the same thing."

The attorney listed a number of vulgar texts that Manoogian had sent Marino during their relationship. She called one Democratic lawmaker a "dumb ass" and said she wanted to murder another colleague, according to Rataj. At one point, Rataj said if he wanted to embarrass Manoogian, he would have given all of the messages to the media.

"She’s got no problem calling other people names," Rataj said of Manoogian.

Manoogian had continued to confide in Marino as she was alleging harassing behavior was taking place, Rataj said. That "undercuts" her arguments that she's fearful of him, he said.

Manoogian is a second-term lawmaker who represents a portion of Oakland County. Marino is third-term lawmaker who represents a portion of neighboring Macomb County.


Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed