- Associated Press - Monday, March 8, 2021

Detroit News. March 3, 2021.

Editorial: Michigan should scrap one-man grand juries

Expediency should never get in the way of justice. Yet that was the justification Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office offered in explaining why it chose the archaic one-man jury to bring charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and eight members of his administration.

Nessel and Special Prosecutor Kym Worthy took the evidence against the nine officials indicted in the Flint Water crisis to a one-man grand jury - a Genesee County judge - and presented it in secret proceedings with no defense attorneys present.

That allowed the prosecution to avoid laying out its case in an open court before trial, which is the typical process, and it denied the defendants the opportunity to challenge the evidence before heading to trial.



The goal was to avoid what happened the first time a case was brought against administration officials. Former Health Director Nick Lyon, facing nine felony counts of manslaughter in the Flint Water Crisis, mounted a vigorous defense that extended his preliminary exam for nearly a year before the charges were dropped.

The attorney general wanted a swifter path when she brought her own charges against the Snyder officials. So she dusted off the one-man grand jury, a tool nearly unique to Michigan.

Not only did it allow her office to move the cases faster into court, but it also keeps the defendants in the dark about the evidence that will be used against them, a tremendous advantage for the prosecution.

Defendants were denied the right to hear why the government believes it has probable cause to believe they committed the crimes of which they stand accused. That is a basic piece of due process.

The legal field should always be as level as possible. That demands scrapping the one-man grand jury.

Sen. Michael McDonald, R-Macomb Township, introduced a bill that would ban the one-man grand jury, adopted in 1917, and bring Michigan in line with most other states.

“It’s about as antiquated a law as you can get,” says McDonald, who adds his bill is part of a broader effort to modernize criminal justice legislation. “It seems like it exists to expedite things, but due process is important. We need to take a stronger look at the criminal justice system to make sure people are given a fair shake.”

McDonald, in his first term in the Senate, says he doesn’t know Snyder or the other defendants, and began work on the bill before the charges were brought against them.

Among the justifications for using a one-man grand jury is to compel a reluctant witness to testify; to assure the truthfulness of testimony by putting the witness under oath; to grant a witness immunity and to protect the identity and reputation of those under investigation.

None of those apply in the Flint case.

Nearly all prosecutions in Michigan are done without a one-man grand jury.

McDonald is hoping for bipartisan support of his bill, and is pitching it as a measure that would bring fairness and transparency to the legal process. We hope he’s right, and that the bill will move through the Legislature with enough bipartisan votes to better assure it a signature from the governor.

The criminal justice system will not miss the one-man grand jury. But its absence in Michigan will strengthen the integrity of the legal process.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. March 4, 2021.

Editorial: Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for hush money

Apparently silence isn’t priceless.

In fact, it costs a few hundred thousand taxpayer dollars and some billable hours from state-funded lawyers.

Or so we learned this week as news broke of cushy separation agreements brokered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration in an effort to help at least a couple of state agency leaders out the door.

Those agreements - one with former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon, and the other with former director of the state Unemployment Insurance Agency Steve Gray —are the equivalent of a golden parachute paired with a golden muzzle for folks whose job descriptions included serving the people of Michigan, not fleecing them.

It’s a stomach-turning trend we’ve watched play out in local governments - former Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent Ann Cardon walked away from the district with $180,000 thanks to a “separation agreement”.

Sure, brokered exits are somewhat commonplace in the private sector as companies and employees try to keep reputations intact during a split.

But these exit deals have no place in government.

Who are they protecting and from what? What could Robert Gordon, Steve Gray and the governor possibly say about one another or the operations of their state departments that should be shielded from the public?

The deal signed by Gordon and Mark Totten, Whitmer’s top lawyer prohibited Gordon from discussing the circumstances of his departure “in the interest of protecting deliberations among government officials.”

Since when are “deliberations among government officials” something we believe should be protected from public view, especially when we’re talking about the exit of a state employee who leads the department in charge of the state’s pandemic response?

Michiganders deserve to know what they paid Gordon and Gray to keep quiet.

This is a frustrating development from a governor who, as she took office, made pronounced public overtures about making meaningful reforms to the state’s dismal transparency laws. Those are the laws that exempt both the legislature and the governor’s office from the Freedom of Information Act.

Yet, when given the opportunity to live up to those declarations, Whitmer and her administration seem persistently attached to the murkiness that has permeated Michigan government for decades.

The governor didn’t appreciate Republican lawmakers’ characterization of payouts to Gordon and Gray as “hush money”, but we find ourselves struggling to find a better term for a cash-for-silence scheme.

So we will stick to calling taxpayer-funded confidentiality pacts what they are: a disservice.

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Alpena News. March 5, 2021.

Editorial: Students, schools, teachers need clarity on tests

We, like many parents and educators, have our doubts about the value of standardized tests.

But we have no doubt about the importance of clarity and consistency to teachers, parents, school administrators, and students.

School life can be stressful enough for everyone involved, and any confusion about what to expect, what you’re working toward, only makes things harder.

That’s exactly what the state and federal government are doing to schools and families as they debate whether schools should be required to administer standardized tests during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state requested a waiver to federal testing requirements. The feds denied that request. But then the state said it would craft another request, this time asking for more flexibility on exactly what type of test should count toward the federal requirement and who has to take it.

With just three months left of the school year, this is no time for ambiguity.

We encourage our state and federal leaders to get their ducks in a row and quickly so schools and families can know what’s ahead.

END

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