Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Mess in Michigan: Prosecutor Finds Extortion Allegation Credible, But Won't File Charges

An earlier post (here) discussed the allegations by Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox that Geoffrey Fieger, a prominent local attorney who has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to oppose Cox in next year's election, tried to blackmail him about an affair the still-married Cox had with a co-worker a few years ago.  Cox's office has been investigating Fieger for campaign contribution violations related to payments by Fieger for commercials against Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman, who was running in a confirmation election in 2004.  According to Cox, Fieger used an attorney, Lee O'Brien, to serve as the go-between to get the campaign contributions investigation terminated.  Cox reported the alleged blackmail to David Gorcyca, the local Oakland County prosecutor.

Gorcyca announced that his office would not file charges against Fieger and O'Brien, although Gorcyca stated that he was convinced they engaged in a conspiracy to blackmail Cox.  According to a Detroit News story (here), Gorcyca stated, "We didn't have enough to charge . . . Neither Mr. Fieger or Mr. O'Brien should claim victory, act virtuous or gloat."  The political aspects of the case make for quite a tangled web.  Aside from the Cox-Fieger relationship (if you can call it that), Cox's political action committee contributed approximately $34,000 to Justice Markman's campaign in 2004, and the Attorney General's office recently hired Markman's wife.  Fieger has called upon the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate, but Justice Markman is a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan who hired many of the attorneys in that office, so the current U.S. Attorney has recused the office from the case.

While Gorcyca has announced that he will refer the matter to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission for an ethics investigation, it is troubling that a prosecutor would announce his belief that two people are guilty of criminal conduct and then state that charges could not be proven in court so the case will not proceed.  As distasteful as Fieger's conduct often is, no one deserves to be announced as having committed a crime and then left without the means to combat such an allegation.  A prosecutor's personal belief is expressed in criminal charges, or the matter is dropped.  A directive not to gloat or act virtuous is hardly one that the prosecutor can, or should, issue.  (ph)

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