Former Ingham County prosecutor Donald Martin dead at 71

Former Ingham County prosecutor Donald Martin has died from leukemia. He was 71.

The Lansing State Journal reports that Martin was hired as an assistant Ingham prosecutor in 1967:

In 1970, he was promoted to chief assistant prosecutor. He resigned in 1973 and went into private practice. In 1986, Martin was appointed interim county prosecutor after Peter Houk was named to the circuit court. Later that year, Martin was elected to serve the last two years of Houk’s term. Martin won re-election in 1988 and 1992, and ended up serving as prosecutor for 10 years.

In 1996, Martin lost his bid for a third term to Stuart Dunnings III, the current Ingham County prosecutor, shortly after Martin’s unsuccessful manslaughter prosecution of a Lansing doctor who removed his premature child from life support.

Martin then joined the Lansing law firm of Foster, Swift Collins and Smith, where he practiced in the areas of criminal law, white-collar crime and domestic relations.

He earned his J.D. from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1967, and was a 1964 graduate of Capital University.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and three sons.

Lansing legal community mourns Stuart Dunnings Jr.

“He was one hell of an attorney. He was good, tremendous! He would win cases that were unbelievable that you never thought he would win.”

That’s how Rudy Wilson remembers Lansing legal icon Stuart Dunnings Jr., who died Wednesday. He was 58.

Wilson, Dunning’s good friend of more than 50 years, was reminiscing for WLNS-TV reporter Alison Himelhoch’s post on the station’s Web site.

Dunnings Jr. had a long and distinguished career as a forceful advocate and a champion of civil rights.

He was Lansing’s first black lawyer, reports The Lansing State Journal.

Dunnings was the father of Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III. From The Lansing State Journal:

Stuart Dunnings III credits his father’s good name with helping to win him election to the prosecutor’s office in 1996.

“People think I’m Stuart Dunnings,” Dunnings III said. “The real Stuart Dunnings is my dad.”

Dunnings III noted that his father set high standards and that not meeting those standards was not an option. He said he realized early on that: “I was the son of a great man whose greatness I would never achieve,” Dunnings III said. “I’m just proud to have been his son.”

Services for Stuart Dunnings Jr. are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lansing. Riley Funeral Home in Lansing is handling the arrangements.

Former law student prevails on First Amendment claim against MSU

Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield has ruled that a former Michigan State University law school student had a First Amendment right to confront a university parking officer who ticketed his SUV, reports The Lansing State Journal.

“In overturning the conviction of the former student, 26-year-old Jared Rapp, … Manderfield said the ordinance used by authorities to prosecute Rapp was unconstitutional,” according to The LSJ.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said his office will appeal Manderfield’s decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Dunnings said Rapp “went way over the line” in confronting the officer.

The case stemmed from a September 2008 incident in a campus parking ramp. Rapp’s Land Rover was ticketed for parking in a space with an expired meter.

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).