Larry Inman Trial; Should the State Have Dismissed the Recall Petition?

It’s better than any Hallmark movie. (Although really, what is Hallmark going to be this holiday season without Lori Loughlin?) Coming this Christmas season, to a United States District Court in Grand Rapids, you’ll have all the holiday feels when Michigan State Representative Larry Inman explains how it just looks like he was soliciting bribes. Bring your pumpkin spice latte, bring your chai tea, as we sit down to hear about how the opioid addiction made him do it. Or was it free speech? Or was it just soliciting campaign cash?

lee chatfield ordered to testify at larry inman trial

Lee Chatfield has to testify. The judge ruled as much, and that was the correct answer.

Trial begins December 3.

Larry Inman Recall Petition Trashed

In the meantime, the Michigan Secretary of State threw out the recall petition for Larry Inman. The Secretary of State relied on the fact that the approved recall petition language varied by one word from the actual language used on the petitions. Sources like the Detroit Free Press are reporting that there’s no “wiggle room” in whether the petition language must match exactly.

I can kinda see how the Secretary of State got there, but I don’t 100% agree.

The Secretary of State is relying on Michigan Compiled Law 168.961 which says that the filing official (the Secretary of State) shall not count signatures when…

The reasons for recall are different than those determined under section 951a by the board of state canvassers or the Michigan court of appeals or under section 952 by the board of county election commissioners or the circuit court to be factual and of sufficient clarity to enable the officer whose recall is sought and the electors to identify the course of conduct which is the basis for this recall.

In their letter throwing out the petition, the Secretary of State explains that “The use of the mandatory term “shall” indicates that the reasons printed for the recall printed on the petition must strictly comply with the reasons approved by the Board of State Canvassers.”

But that’s not what the term “shall” is talking about at all there. The term “shall” has to do with the fact that the state board can’t count signatures when there’s non-compliance. The word “shall” does not define when non-compliance occurs. The word “shall” isn’t anywhere to be found in the part that talks about the reasons for recall being different than what was approved. Basically, there’s no standard written into the law for when the reasons or recall are different than what was approved by the board of state canvassers. Are the reasons for recall different when a single word is different? The law doesn’t actually say.

As courts have pointed out, the plain language of the statute is what matters. If the legislators wanted the reasons on the recall petition to match exactly, why would they write that the reasons for recall must be “not different?”  Why not just write “must match exactly?” Is something different when it’s a single word different? In some contexts yes, in some contexts, no. What is the spirit of the law? For recall petitions to fail on technicalities?

The law is actually silent on whether “substantially comply” or “strictly comply” is what applies when it comes to the approved language. Of course, using the exact approved language is what you want to do, otherwise you end up in this poo pile. However, when someone doesn’t use the right language, MCL 168.961 really isn’t super clear on whether it can ever be okay enough to get by.

There was a Michigan case that upheld a petition dismissal where the petitioner didn’t use the right font size. But the law calls for a certain font size, while in this case, the law says only that the reasons can’t be different, without defining what “different” means.

Feel free to disagree with me. I see how someone could see it their way, but I see it this way.

So then I got to wondering who this official is that signed this letter, Sally Williams. She appears to be a career bureaucrat for the Secretary of State, and not far from retirement. She has worked for the office of the Secretary of State under both Republican and Democrat elected officials.

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1 thought on “Larry Inman Trial; Should the State Have Dismissed the Recall Petition?”

  1. I’ve listened to the “exact” warning when involved in the process in another life. The warning should’ve been given to these folks at the time the process was initiated. I’ve sat and watched signed petitions audited and know they aren’t kidding around. I completely understand the angst, however.

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