On Nov. 3, 1975, a federal jury convicted then- Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Swainson of three perjury counts, a verdict that forced him to resign in disgrace after more than 20 years of public service.
Thirty-five years later, Okemos author and former Ingham County judge Larry Glazer writes in a soon-to-be-published book that he believes the jury got it wrong. Swainson, Michigan’s governor from 1961 to 1962, was pinned with a crime he didn’t commit, Glazer concludes in "John Swainson: The Rise and Fall of a Wounded Warrior."
Swainson ultimately did get his law license back, but he died in 1994 under the stigma of having lied to a federal grand jury about allegedly taking a $20,000 bribe to help a convicted burglar get special considerations on the high court.
When it was all said and done, Swainson, a veteran who lost his legs below the knees in a World War II explosion, fell victim to a "very aggressive federal prosecutor" and a jury who doubted his honesty about his recollection of conversations he had had three years prior.
Folks in Lansing who were not in the law enforcement community believed that Swainson had been railroaded for political reasons. Swainson was a rumored Democratic U.S. Senate candidate for 1976. The theory was that the Nixon administration was trumping up charges against Swainson to soil him. Glazer said he never found any evidence to substantiate those claims, either.
What he did find was a federal case based on a wire-tapped conversation between John Whalen, a lifetime crook and renowned snitch whose larceny conviction was pending before the high state court, and bail bondsman Harvey Wish, a middle man who claimed his special influence with Swainson could be purchased for the right price.
And while Swainson first told a grand jury he didn’t remember having phone conversations with Wish in 1972, he came back two days later, after speaking with his Supreme Court staff, and said the telephone calls did take place.
The jury felt Swainson had tried to hide the conversations from them and opted to come clean after giving the matter a second thought. But Glazer, after months of exhausting review over the case file and numerous interviews — including the firstever believed interview with Wish since the conviction — said he believes Swainson had been caught off guard by the direction of the grand jury’s questioning and genuinely drew an initial blank when asked about the 3-year-old conversations with Wish.
Swainson simply failed to fully explain how it had taken a day and conversations with his Supreme Court staff to jar his memory, Glazer said.
The events surrounding this high-profile case of alleged bribery and conspiracy were so interesting that Glazer scrapped his initial plans to simply write a magazine story on Swainson in favor of an entire book, which will be published by Michigan State University Press later this year.
"People have no idea what happened in this case," Glazer said. "In some respects, this is better than fiction."
Glazer first got interested in writing about Swainson several years ago when he was approached by the publisher of Dome magazine, Tom Scott, to write a story as part of a former governors series. He was first asked to write about former Gov. Jim Blanchard, but he took a pass since Glazer had been Blanchard’s legal adviser and he didn’t feel he could be objective.
Instead, Glazer said he wanted to write about John Swainson since he had a passing connection to the Wish case. Once he dipped his toe into the research, Glazer couldn’t stop. Three and a half years later, a book was born. He finished writing it in the summer of 2008. He’s hopeful that the book will be part of the press’ 2010 summer catalogue.
Drama state raise goes on
State employees who breathed a sigh of relief when the Senate earlier this month failed to get the two-thirds vote to reject a planned three percent pay increase for Oct. 1 shouldn’t start spending that money yet.
The Legislature still has until April 10 to reject the pay raise, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, is still trying to scrape up the four votes he needs to get the measure passed in the Senate. On Friday, MIRS reported that he picked up at least one in Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton.
Two weeks ago, Patterson, a longtime attorney, withheld his yes vote out of concerns that rejecting the pay increase could be illegal under labor laws. He’s since researched the question to his satisfaction and has concluded that it would be legal.
With all 22 Republican senators and one Democrat behind him, Bishop still needs three Democratic votes to get to 26. If he’s able to get to them, House Speaker Andy Dillon has not ruled out the possibility that the Democratic-controlled House could take up the measure.
Instead, Dillon has repeatedly stressed the need for "reforms" as the first step to balancing a 2011 budget that’s $1.7 billion in the red. Saving $48 million in General Fund money by rejecting the bargained pay hike could, arguably, fall under the "reform" category.
Teamsters yet to endorse
When the AFL-CIO endorsed Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s gubernatorial bid last week, at least one significant arm of organized labor was not part of the collective group hug — the Teamsters.
The political wing of the Teamsters union held its own interview session with Bernero and his two opponents for the Democratic nomination — House Speaker Andy Dillon and Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith — last Thursday.
One Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, also accepted an invitation to attend the meeting.
still unclear whom the Teamsters will endorse in the 2010 gubernatorial
primary or if they’ll opt for a split endorsement — one from the
Republican side and one from the Democratic side.
just because Bernero got crosswise with the local Teamsters union over
the city of Lansing’s protracted labor agreement, don’t think he’ll be
automatically discounted by the full Teamsters membership.
the UAW rank-and-file, Bernero scored points during his interview
session for his past defense of the domestic auto industry last year
during the congressional hearings with General Motors, Ford and
Chrysler, one of the screeners told MIRS last week.
(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Email him at Melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)