Constitutional Conflict?

Posted In: Politics, State,   From Issue 630   By: Robert E Martin

25th January, 2007     0

With the Michigan House of Representatives convening after their holiday recess, all signals point to a very divided and bi-partisan fight in the months ahead.

Although the Michigan Constitution prohibits any person "who has within the preceding 20 years been convicted of a felony involving a breach of public trust" from taking a seat in the Legislature, two Democratic candidates, Bert Johnson, whose district covers Hamtramck, Highland Park and a small portion of Detroit; and George Cushingberry, also of Detroit, were both allowed to be sworn into office, despite vehement Republican objections.

Prior to the last election, Republicans held a 58-52 majority in the House. But Democrats won a 58-52 majority of their own November 7th.

Johnson said he was present during a May 27, 1993 robbery of a cash box from the country club where he caddied, but did not pull the gun. He pled 'no contest' to felony charges of armed robber and breaking & entering at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township.

Although a no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt, it is treated as such for sentencing purposes and is considered a conviction under state law.

As for Cushingberry, he was charged by Attorney General Mike Cox with two counts of Felony Perjury and one count of Misdemeanor Failure to File 2 or More Campaign Statements after a five-month investigation into non-compliance with Michigan's Campaign Finance Act and Election Law during the 2004 election.

The investigation revealed allegations that Cushinbgerry committed perjury twice by making false statements in a May 7, 2004 affidavit of identity, as well as in a post-election statement of 2005. Both charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

"This was a political issue drummed up during campaign season to divide people," commented Dan Farough, House Democratic spokesman. "No speaker of either party should be telling the people of Detroit or any other region in the state who should or should not represent them."

Former Speaker Craig DeRouche of Novi believes that out of principle, the Constitution should prohibit Johnson from taking his seat, but "politically speaking, the votes aren't there."

The Democratic majority is basing their decision of support upon the interpretation of some legal experts, including respected Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, a Republican, that a breach of public trust must involve a public official using his office to break the law.


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