The People vs. Duntley
Sherry Duntley, the Little Traverse Township clerk, had her day in court.
Well, one of them, at least.
Duntley is accused by the department of the Michigan Attorney General of participating in electioneering - specifically of giving her opinion and providing false information regarding the three Michigan statewide proposals on the November 8, 2022 ballot, especially Proposal 3, which enshrined reproductive rights (abortion) in the Michigan constitution.
On August 23, 2023, during a preliminary examination hearing, Judge Angela Lasher, who presides over the 90th District Court, agreed with the State (represented by attorney Richard Cunningham of the Criminal Division of the MI Attorney General’s office) that there is probable cause that Duntley tried to influence how people vote.
Duntley is charged with “willful neglect” of duty common-law felony and misdemeanor charges. If convicted of the felony, she faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
The back story in brief … Complaints by two women from Little Traverse Township – Louisa Miller and Suzanne Seacord – who had face-to-face encounters with Duntley at the township offices while seeking ballot information, were received, in October of 2022, by the Michigan Dept. of State Bureau of Elections. In the accompanying affidavit related to the complaints, one of the women claimed that Duntley told her, regarding Proposal 3, that “a woman can choose to murder her child up to a month after the baby is born.”
Duntley, after being contacted by Adam Fracassi, an investigative manager for the Michigan Dept. of State, adamantly denied that any such conversations took place including another one in which a third party, who chose to not come forward, alleged that Duntley said, “Proposal 3 is the baby killer one.”
Christopher Jahnke, of the Michigan Dept. of State’s Investigative Services, traveled from down state to the Little Traverse Township on 10/27/22 in an undercover capacity and, covertly, video recorded on his phone a conversation with Duntley. He claimed to be a resident of the Township - that he lived on Mink Road - and that he wanted a copy of the ballot. Jahnke also engaged Duntley in a prolonged conversation about Proposal 3. Among Duntley’s comments to him: “I can talk to you off the record. I can just tell you what our church, our pastor has been talking from the pulpit.” Duntley explained that said pastor made it sound like one could receive an abortion at any medical facility, even a veterinarian’s clinic.
In the conversation with Jahnke she also reiterated that as “an elected official I can’t go one way or the other,” meaning she could not champion a pro or anti point of view on the proposal.
Based on this conversation and the testimony of the two women, Mary Beth Kur, Duntley’s attorney, argued that the State did not show probable cause.
“I didn’t recall hearing any testimony that anyone was told how to vote,” Kur said.
She added that Duntley, even in her capacity as an elected official, is entitled to use her First Amendment right to opine.
Cunningham disagreed with Kur’s arguments. “The fact that she did the lawful act of expressing her opinion in a wrongful manner by using her position as clerk in an attempt to influence voters makes it misfeasance,” Cunningham said. Misfeasance is defined as the performance of a lawful action in an illegal or improper manner.
Representatives from Emmet Responsible Government (ERG) were in the courtroom during the preliminary examination hearing. Several observations:
1. ERG disagrees, respectfully, with Lasher, that the probable cause standard was met, and agrees with the criminal defense.
2. Recording Duntley, via an undercover investigator with many years of law enforcement experience, who gave false information about himself, seems like entrapment.
3. One of the complainants could not identify Duntley in the courtroom when asked to point her out. How credible is her other testimony, then?
4. MI Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose department is bringing forward the complaint against Duntley, has a track record of weaponizing her position to prosecute political enemies like the MI-16 GOP electors. She also favors a ‘hate list’ distributed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-leaning non-profit, to monitor dissent.
Despite the misgivings, ERG certainly hopes for a just outcome for Sherry Duntley as her case now proceeds to the 57th Circuit Court.
Never forget: A criminal charge is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.