Hugh Clarke Jr. named to Lansing district court bench

The Lansing State Journal reports that Hugh Clarke Jr. has been appointed judge of the 54A District Court.

Said Clarke of his appointment by Gov. Jennifer Granholm:

“I’m certainly pleased and humbled. I want to thank the Governor for this opportunity she has bestowed on me. I’m looking forward to serving the citizens of Lansing in this position.”

Clarke has unsuccessfully campaigned four times for a seat on the bench: twice for Ingham County Circuit Court and twice for district court seats.

He’s a Cooley Law School grad and has an undergraduate degree from Wayne State University.

Among Clarke’s notable cases: a $2 million settlement for Claude McCollum, who was wrongful convicted of murder and served several years in prison before being freed.

The price of wrongful conviction: $2 million

Claude McCollum, who spent more than two years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, has settled his wrongful-conviction suit for $2 million, according to a report in this morning’s Lansing State Journal.

McCollum was convicted four years ago of murdering a Lansing Community College professor in a classroom. Video evidence that showed him sleeping in another part of the campus when the murder occurred never made it to the jury. Later, another man confessed to the murder.

After McCollum was released from prison, he celebrated his freedom by suing everyone who had anything to do with his arrest and conviction. See, The Michigan Lawyer, Will patience pay off in civil suit against prosecutors and police?

Most defendants were dismissed from the case. From the LSJ:

The settlement, reached late Tuesday, brings an end to two and a half years of litigation that eventually centered on whether Lansing Community College police Detective Rodney Bahl hid evidence of McCollum’s innocence.

Three attorneys, Hugh Clarke, Jr., Thomas Wuori and E. Thomas McCarthy, represented McCollum in the civil suit.

They’ve structured the settlement to be paid out over a number of years. Says Clarke in the LSJ:

We have taken all the steps we can to protect him from any of the vultures and con-artists.

Don’t even apply – it’s locked up, it’s not there, and he won’t have it.

Ingham County prosecutor feeling the heat

The Lansing State Journal took an unusual editorial position in last Sunday’s editions.

It’s a bit too early to endorse candidates for the November election. But the LSJ’s editorial board took a quick lead in telling voters who not to vote for: the incumbent Ingham County prosecutor.

“At this time, it’s unclear who would be the best person to lead the Prosecutor’s Office in 2009. What is clear, though, is it should not be Stuart Dunnings III.”

Dunnings fired assistant prosecutor Eric Matwiejczyk a couple of weeks ago, on the heels of a report issued by Attorney General Mike Cox’s office.

In February 2006, Matwiejczyk obtained first-degree murder and criminal sexual conduct convictions against Claude McCollum. The convictions were reversed and McCollum was released from prison after news surfaced that a state police report of a video surveillance tape analysis showed that McCollum was somewhere else when the crime was committed. The state police report was prepared in 2005, shortly after the victim was killed.

The attorney general’s report stated that the “vast majority of witnesses interviewed support the conclusion that Matwiejczyk had not been provided the report prior to February 2, 2006.” The attorney general’s report concluded that the state police report was not provided to McCollum’s defense attorney until moments before the report’s author, a state police detective, took the stand on Feb. 2 to testify at trial.

The attorney general’s report says that Matwiejczyk avoided questioning the detective about McCollum’s whereabouts when the crime was committed. McCollum’s attorney didn’t cross-exam the detective about the “potentially exculpatory [state police] report.” The attorney general’s report states “Matwiejczyk did nothing[]” and suggests that perhaps he should have.

The attorney general’s report referred Matwiejczyk to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission to investigate “whether he violated the Michigan Rules of Profession conduct for his failure to disclose exculpatory information in a timely manner to allow for its effective use at trial.”

The Lansing State Journal explained why Dunnings should take the fall for Matwiejczyk:

“The Attorney General Office’s review of the Claude McCollum prosecution is a defining failure in a long record of problems under Dunnings’ management. There have been too many examples of misjudgment and too much misunderstanding of what it means to be a public servant in the most sensitive position in county government.

“The logic for Dunnings’ departure boils down to a single word: trust. The voters of this county have given him an office of wide-ranging powers. His record, though, shows he cannot be trusted with them.

“And in the McCollum case, it seems Dunnings couldn’t even be bothered with the details. The AG’s Office spent months reviewing documents and interviewing the principals in the case that led to McCollum being wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the brutal slaying of Carolyn Kronenberg.

“The picture presented is one of a prosecution focused on McCollum to the exclusion of evidence that created clear doubt. And Dunnings? He doesn’t appear at all. His subordinates, based on their testimony, did not even inform Dunnings of a critical analysis of video evidence that put McCollum elsewhere at the time of Kronenberg’s death.

“The Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office handles thousands of criminal complaints each year. There’s no way a single person could be on top of every single case.

“But this wasn’t the average break-in or car theft. This was a heinous and high-profile homicide. Dunnings appears to have delegated the matter to someone he trusted and left it at that.

“This person, Eric Matwiejczk, was fired in the wake of the AG’s report, though. And the Attorney General’s Office advised that Matwiejczk’s professional conduct be investigated.”

The LSJ detailed what it perceives to be other of Dunnings’ shortcomings:

“Looking back over the last decade, there were other warning signs about Dunnings’ adherence to key principles of public service.

“Again and again, Dunnings has attempted to keep key facets of the legal process out of the public eye.

“In the Ricky Holland and Sally Mercer cases, Dunnings sought to seal hearings.

“He actively lobbied for a state law to restrict public access to search warrants and related documents – after he himself had suppressed search warrants in homicide cases.

“In 1999, he kept the public in the dark about the actual arrest of a rape suspect. Search warrants in that case were issued in secret and sealed.

“The LSJ has had its run-ins with the prosecutor, most notably in 1999 when he unsuccessfully sought unpublished photos taken by LSJ staffers on the night of a riot in East Lansing – a move that would have turned the media into an arm of the Prosecutor’s Office.”

As mentioned, the LSJ stopped short of endorsing Dunnings’ opponent, Republican J. Nicholas Bostic. Instead, the paper urged local Democrats to abandon Dunnings and get a write-campaign going for someone else.

Related reading here and here (last item in post).