Preserve records related to former Speaker Chatfield, Michigan House tells members

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The general counsel for the Michigan House of Representatives told members Saturday to "secure and preserve" any documents relating to former Speaker Lee Chatfield's conduct while in office or his use of House resources.

The Detroit News obtained a copy of the message, which was confirmed by two sources who received it. The move points to the seriousness of the claims against the former Republican leader.

The demand sent by Aaron Van Langevelde, the House's general counsel, came two days after Chatfield's sister-in-law accused him of sexually assaulting her, beginning when she was 15.

New Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield R-Levering, speaks to the media after the opening ceremonies.

"This litigation hold is in effect until you receive further communication from me and is in addition to any other prior litigation hold," Van Langevelde wrote in the Saturday email addressed to members and staff.

"As you have likely heard, the Michigan State Police and the Lansing Police Department are investigating allegations involving former House Speaker Lee Chatfield," Van Langevelde's message began.

The House has reached out to the law enforcement agencies to offer assistance with their investigations, said Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for current House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell.

D'Assandro also referenced a claim first reported by Bridge Michigan that Chatfield assaulted his sister-in-law inside the Capitol building.

"With the new specific allegations about events alleged to have happened in the Capitol, the House is creating this hold for all members and staff to assist with any potential MSP and LPD inquiries," D'Assandro said.

Chatfield, a former teacher from Levering, served in the state House from 2015 through 2020. He was the speaker, the most powerful position in the chamber, for 2019 and 2020 before leaving because of term limits.

On Thursday, the Michigan State Police confirmed an investigation was occurring into sexual abuse allegations against Chatfield based on a complaint from his 26-year-old sister-in-law.

The investigation, first reported by Lansing City Pulse, focuses on allegations that Chatfield sexually abused the woman for more than a decade, starting when she was a teenager and attending Chatfield's church, Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church, said Jamie White, a lawyer for the woman.

White has indicated there were also financial allegations against Chatfield.

On Friday, Chatfield denied claims he sexually abused his sister-in-law but admitted to an affair with the woman. Chatfield's lawyer, Mary Chartier, said the affair lasted years, "but they were both consenting adults." 

"Mr. Chatfield deeply regrets the decisions he has made," Chartier said in a statement. "It has caused great pain to his wife and family, and they are working through this together. But he did not assault this woman in any manner during their years-long adult relationship. He intends to vigorously fight these false claims."

In his Saturday letter, Van Langevelde told members and staff to preserve information "relating to former Speaker Chatfield’s conduct while in office or his use of House resources."

The types of records that should be preserved are memoranda, notes, diaries, reports, records of meetings and records of conversations, the general counsel wrote.

A similar litigation hold was put in place for documents related to former state Reps. Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser when the House launched an investigation into a misuse of resources tied to an affair between the two lawmakers.

The House Business Office's investigation found a misuse of resources in the fall of 2015, leading to expulsion votes on Garmrat and Courser. Gamrat was ousted by her colleagues, while Courser resigned before the House vote on his conduct.