Independent Counsel Act would require zero conflicts of interest among criminal case lawyers

LANSING, Mich., May 16, 2018 — Sen. Steve Bieda (D–Warren) today introduced his “Counsel without Conflict” legislation that would ensure a defendant’s rights to due process and justice in the criminal court system, without bias, external political influences or hidden agendas by involved case attorneys.

The bill would allow the governor or attorney general to petition the Michigan Court of Appeals to appoint an independent counsel to proceed on a specific criminal investigation or specific criminal case, if either determines that the attorney general has a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Michigan citizens deserve to know that justice will not be sidelined because someone seeks to benefit from their pain, financially or politically,” Sen. Bieda said. “An independent counsel will shed light on the true depths of the network swamp in Lansing and ensure that potential conflicts of interest will not impede the outcome of very serious investigations.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently hosted Peter Secchia, a major Michigan State University donor, as his guest at the first Republican gubernatorial debate earlier this month. Secchia has publicly denounced legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for cases involving sexual assault to give survivors a path toward justice that is currently denied to them under existing law.

“Mr. Secchia’s comments, and apparent close ties to our state’s attorney general, have tainted the integrity of the investigation into MSU’s handling, and potential cover-up, of Larry Nassar’s crimes,” said Sterling Riethman, a survivor.

Michigan State University today announced a $500 million civil agreement to settle hundreds of lawsuits with survivors. Yet, while survivors have been compensated for damages, Schuette’s investigation of MSU’s administration has been slow to hold university officials accountable for criminal aspects of the Nassar case.

“The public’s distrust for government is at an all-time high, and their skepticism continues to build because there always seems to be something more hidden in the shadows,” Sen. Bieda said. “Citizens don’t have access to the transparency they need in order to validate certain claims, leading to those responsible never being truly held accountable, and it’s time to change that.”

Sen. Bieda has been a staunch advocate for strengthening ethics and transparency laws, which has led to him recently being nicknamed “the conscience of the state Senate.” Throughout his 16-year career as a lawmaker in the Michigan Legislature, he has led the charge for more access to information and has introduced numerous bills aimed at transparency — more than anyone else — to expand the Freedom of Information Act and require candidates to release their tax returns. Sen. Bieda was also the architect behind the Legal Defense Fund Act passed in 2008, which is the only major piece of ethics reform to reach the governor’s desk in more than a decade.

The “Counsel without Conflict” bill caps off Sen. Bieda’s final term of his career in the legislature.