1751Macomb County Prosecutor criticized for stance on ruling
- Sep 28, 2008Source:
Macomb County Prosecutor criticized for stance on ruling
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith's recent lambasting of a circuit
judge who overturned a jury's murder conviction has prompted serious
County judges have met twice to discuss the prosecutor's critical
comments. And defense lawyers have filed a motion to have Smith's
entire office disqualified from the case.
The fallout comes in the weeks after Circuit Judge James Biernat
tossed out the verdict against Michael George, who was convicted in
March of shooting his wife 18 years ago in the back of the Clinton
Township comic book store they owned.
Smith publicly called Biernat soft on crime and said the judge had
made a mockery of the jury's verdict with his Sept. 12 ruling.
Biernat, he said, was "looking for any excuse to let this convicted
killer go free."
Smith acknowledged to the Free Press that there has been a rift
between his office and the bench ever since. Chief Judge Richard
Caretti confirmed that judges have called one emergency meeting in the
last two weeks and pushed up their monthly meeting date to discuss the
But Smith said his job isn't to make judges happy.
"We show up every day, and we prosecute the bad guys," Smith said.
"The only thing that matters to me is whether the victims end up happy
George's lawyers, Joe Kosmala and former Macomb County Prosecutor Carl
Marlinga, based much of their motion to disqualify Smith's office on
those critical comments.
The motion says that Smith "has engaged in public comment and
demonstrations with the intent and effect of disparaging the court and
denying" George "his right to a fair trial."
"We filed it because the prosecutor has become so involved in this on
a personal basis," Kosmala said.
The motion also points to statements Smith made in an episode of NBC's
"Dateline" that focused on the case. Smith said his late father,
former Clinton Township Police Chief Robert Smith, had long believed
George had killed his wife and would be proud that the prosecutor had
nailed the conviction.
A hearing to decide whether Smith should be disqualified is set for
Oct. 3 in Biernat's courtroom.
George, 48, was convicted of first-degree murder after a nearly
three-week trial that hinged on circumstantial evidence in the cold case.
Prosecutors said George killed his 32-year-old wife, Barbara George,
to be with his mistress -- to whom he's now married -- and collect
more than $100,000 in life insurance.
Despite having rejected two defense requests to toss out the case
before George was sentenced to life in prison, Biernat surprised both
sides by granting a motion for a new trial. George is being held in
the Macomb County Jail.
The verbal sparring that resulted hasn't been one-sided.
While Smith accused Biernat of hijacking the court system, Biernat
accused Smith of staging a protest outside of the courthouse.
Smith said such conflicts go with the job: "In general, prosecutors
want judges to be tougher, and judges want prosecutors to be less
rigid. When a problem pops up, we deal with it and move on."
Smith's office is appealing Biernat's ruling to the state Court of
Appeals, which historically tends to reinstate jury verdicts when
they're overturned at the circuit court level.
If the appellate court sides with Biernat, a new trial will be set for
Smith said he's simply out for justice, and "in this case, we are
firmly convinced that seeking justice is seeking a conviction against
Michael George," he said. "We're doing everything we can to reinstate
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