I thought Ed would appreciate this.... personally, I think Eric Smith
is VERY close to getting disbarred or heavily sanctioned by the
Michigan bar for his actions. And I work in the legal field, so I
think I have a bit of an educated opinion on the subject. =)
Emotions need to be checked in George case
Monday, September 22, 2008 2:42 PM EDT
By Frank DeFrank
On those occasions when events threaten to spiral out of control and
emotions shove aside common sense, it's usually a good idea to step
back, take a few deep breaths and give reason and rationale a chance
to exert themselves.
Such appears appropriate in the case of Michael George, who recently
had his conviction overturned in the so-called comicbook murder case.
In case you missed it, Macomb County Circuit Judge James Biernat
overturned a jury's verdict and ordered a new trial for George,
convicted last March for the 1990 slaying of his wife, Barbara.
George had already been sentenced to life in prison with no
possibility of parole when Biernat tossed out the jury's verdict. The
judge cited three reasons for his decision: misconduct by the
prosecutor; new evidence; and unclear or conflicting testimony.
Understandably, Biernat's decision upset the victim's family and
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith. And since he's convinced justice
was not served, Smith should appeal Biernat's decision, which he has
said he would do.
That's where the case should stand. But there's more.
Smith vented his anger publicly. He accused the judge of being "soft"
on crime and vowed to cease offering plea bargains to defendants in
Biernat, perhaps stung by the prosecutor's criticism, shot back during
a court hearing. He accused Smith of launching "vilifying attacks on
the court that could ... contaminate any jury pool should this case go
to trial again."
The judge also said Smith's decision to halt plea bargains could deny
due process to other criminal defendants.
Others joined the fray. Joseph Kosmala, one of Michael George's
lawyers, labeled the men and women who decided the case a "renegade"
jury that refused to follow the court's instruction.
Jurors and family members chimed in with their opinions, pickets
protested in front of the Macomb County Circuit Court Building and a
few lawyers even wrote letters to this newspaper in support of the judge.
The case has threatened to become a free-for-all, and before it does,
everybody involved needs to take those deep breaths and compose
No Macomb County judge I've ever witnessed tossed aside a jury's
verdict without a compelling reason. Biernat isn't likely the first.
Chances are the judge agonized over the decision. At some point, he
became convinced George's rights were not protected. In that case,
it's his responsibility to right the wrong.
But Biernat also needs to refrain from getting drawn into a
tit-for-tat exchange with Smith, no matter how tempting it is to
Smith is absolutely correct to appeal the decision. But beyond that,
his actions are questionable. He should be admonished for retaliating
against the judge because a decision didn't go his way.
Biernat's decision will be reviewed. If the judge was wrong, the
appeals court will correct that mistake. That's how the system works,
and Smith knows it.
As prosecutor, Smith is sworn to uphold the law. That means all of the
laws even those that protect the accused. As for Barbara George's
relatives, their grief is inconsolable and their disappointment
understandable. But that still doesn't trump George's right to a fair
trial. Personal and vitriolic attacks enflame passions and garner
newspaper headlines, but they do nothing to advance justice. All of
those involved in the sad case of the comic book murder would be
well-advised to remember that.
Frank DeFrank can be reached at (586) 783-0309 or via e-mail at