Friday, October 10, 2014

Attorney and Candidate J.A. La Pietra Fights for Benton Harbor Residents' Constitutional Rights

John Anthony La Pietra
   Attorney General
    For the People

386 Boyer Court  *  Marshall, MI  49068
    (269) 781-9478
    Facebook:  jalp4thePeople

For Immediate Release
October 8, 2014

Green Candidate for Attorney General Continues Fight
for Constitutional Rights in Benton Harbor Recall Case
La Pietra Renews Invitation to Michigan Supreme Court
to Let Voters Be Counted as Signing Political Petitions

Stands Alone Against Incumbent, Major Law Firms
to Defend Core First Amendment Speech Rights

    John Anthony La Pietra, Green Party of Michigan candidate for 
Attorney General, today filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to 
reconsider its earlier "no-decision" order and recognize the 
Constitutional rights of Michigan voters to sign political petitions and 
be counted.

    La Pietra's motion to reconsider comes in the case of a mayoral 
recall petition in Benton Harbor -- a case he has carried to the Supreme 
Court, charging no fee and standing alone against the incumbent Attorney 
General's office as well as two major law firms.

    The core issue in the case is whether a registered voter who 
happened to sign a petition validly twice is entitled to be counted 
once.  If so, the Benton Harbor petition had enough valid signatures to 
put the recall on the ballot.

    John won at the Berrien County Trial Court by pointing out that the 
practice applied by County Clerk Sharon Tyler -- of invalidating all 
signatures of such duplicate signers, regardless of whether they 
knowingly tried to get counted twice -- totally denied signers their 
core rights to political speech.

    He also refuted the clerk's legal arguments, showing that

        * there is no state law requiring the "invalidate-all" counting 

        * a 1940 state court case doesn't support the practice as the 
clerk had argued it did; and

        * a 1993 Federal case allowing (though not requiring) the 
practice under the weakest possible Constitutional scrutiny has been 
superseded by the same court and by several US Supreme Court decisions 
since then.

    In an opinion and order issued August 12, Judge John Dewane agreed 
with John that the "invalidate-all" practice was an undue burden on the 
First Amendment rights of petition signers and circulators, and put the 
recall back on the ballot for this November's election.

    The clerk appealed, armed with $20,000 in funding from the County 
Board and support from two major law firms -- one working for the 
Michigan Association of County Clerks -- and the Attorney General's 
office, representing the Secretary of State and the Bureau of Elections.

    After hearing from all those parties, as well as reading John's 
brief and one from the ACLU Fund of Michigan, a three-judge Court of 
Appeals panel issued a literally unexplained and unjustified order 
September 4 reversing Judge Dewane's balanced and reasoned opinion.

    John, working alone, assembled an appeal to the state Supreme Court 
and filed it the next day.  But after almost two weeks of emergency 
consideration, the Court released a one-page order September 17 saying 
they wouldn't decide the matter.  In the standard formal language, the 
order says a majority of the Justices was "not persuaded that the 
question presented should be reviewed by this Court."

    Court rules allowed La Pietra 21 days to move for reconsideration, 
but a recent change requires him to convince the Justices that 
reconsideration is necessary to reverse a palpable error.

    His motion starts by pointing out that the Michigan Supreme Court 
has held since 1913 that even a law enacted by the Legislature to 
preserve the purity of elections may not destroy elective rights.  The 
"invalidate-all" practice is not required by any law, so it may not do 
something a law can't.

    But the practice does destroy voters' rights to sign petitions and 
be counted -- and needlessly, too, since a practice of counting one 
valid signature for any qualified voter and striking any others does as 
much to prevent fraud.

    The motion also reminds the Justices that the Court Clerk's 
Elections Administrator Carolyn Toliver and Sheriff's Detective David 
Zizkovsky admitted at the Trial Court hearing August 7 to criminal 
mishandling of the original petition sheets.

    That violates Michigan court precedent saying purity of elections 
requires "fairness and evenhandedness" in election laws.  And the 
"invalidate-all" practice is even more weakened without fairness, notes 
La Pietra, since it does not have "a statute or even a promulgated rule 
to give it a shield of due process."  The misbehavior of the Court 
Clerk's office should strip the practice of any presumption of 
Constitutionality, he concludes.

    La Pietra concedes that it is too late now to put the Benton Harbor 
recall on next month's ballot.  But the case is not moot; the Supreme 
Court can order the recall it onto the ballot next May, for city voters 
to decide on it then.

    "There is still time for our state's highest court to reconsider 
this case in light of the highest law of the land, and decide it *For 
the People*."

    John's motion for reconsideration can be seen here:

    John also posted the Michigan Supreme Court's previous one-page 
order at

The earlier Court of Appeals non-decision is here:

And the six pages of Judge Dewane's original decision are at

These links and more, plus comments from John, are on his campaign 
Facebook page:

    You can also see developments on the case -- about a day behind 
time -- at the Court's “Case Search” page: 

The Supreme Court's file number for the case is 150019.

    For more information about John's campaign -- including his answers 
to every candidate survey he's received, as well as some "Opinions" and 
other proposals to make sure the job of Attorney General gets done the 
most effective way *For the People* -- contact him via phone, e-mail, or 
USPS mail, or visit his campaign Facebook page:

        John Anthony La Pietra -- Attorney General For the People
        386 Boyer Court
        Marshall, MI  49068
            phone:     (269) 781-9478
            Facebook:  jalp4thePeople

    For more information on the Green Party of Michigan, its Ten Key 
Values, its platform, and its other candidates, contact:

        Green Party of Michigan
        PO Box 504
        Warren, MI  48090-0504
        Facebook:  migreens
        Twitter:   @migreenparty

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prepared using donated labor by:
    JALP -- Attorney General For the People
    386 Boyer Ct; Marshall, MI  49068
        phone:     (269) 781-9478
        Facebook:  jalp4thePeople