May 4 2016 02:16 PM

Candidates mixed on whether process to replace Dunnings should be public

WEDNESDAY, May 4 — Should the selection process of Ingham County’s interim prosecutor be open to the public?

“Yes,” said Gretchen Whitmer, who is the former state Senate Democratic leader, is the most high profile candidate vying for the six-month post. “How’s that for an answer? That’s just succinct.”


“More than anything, right now, I think it’s important to give the public faith in their prosecutor’s office,” Whitmer said today. “That’s an important part of this — being transparent and open.”

Whitmer, of East Lansing, and six others are seeking the position: former Judge Thomas Brennan Jr.; Mark Blumer, a magistrate at the 55th District Court; Bernard Finn, an attorney with Sinas Dramis in Lansing; criminal defense attorney Mary Alexis Bowen; Billie J. O’Berry, a Lansing assistant city attorney; and Thomas English, a former federal prosecutor.

They will be interviewed by the seven county Circuit judges, who are charged under state law with picking a successor to Stuart Dunnings III, who resigned effective July 2 after he was charged with 14 counts related to allegations he frequented prostitutes. A new prosecutor will be elected Nov. 8 to a four-year term.

The question of whether the process has arisen because Chief Circuit Judge Janene Lawless contends that because the judiciary branch is exempt from both the state Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts, the choice can be made in secret.

However, Robin Luce-Hermann, an attorney for the Michigan Press Association, said Tuesday that a 1984 Appeal Court ruling is clear that when judges act as a government body, as they will be doing in this case, they must act in public.

Lawless reversed herself and announced the names of the seven candidates today. On Monday, she had declined to do so.

Whitmer was the only candidate to take an unequivocal position for openness.

Brennan declined to comment. “I think the judges would be appreciative if just didn’t say anything.”

Finn declined to comment except to say he was “not uncomfortable” with the process so far.

Blumer, who lives in East Lansing, said, “If the judges decide to have an open interview process, I have no problem with that.”

“It would probably be beneficial” and “it would restore confidence” in the office if the meetings were public.

English, who is also a candidate in a four-way Democratic primary in August, said he was “a big fan of transparency” but declined to comment on whether than should apply in this situation.

O’Berry, who is running as a Republican in the Aug. 2 primary for the prosecutor post, and Bowen did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, has sent a letter to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette seeking a written legal opinion on whether the selection process is subject to the state’s Open Meetings and the Freedom of Information acts. A formal opinion will likely take months to be issued. It would have the force of law until a court ruled on the issue.