Prosecutors Association Says Whitmer Orders Are Enforceable
May 15, 2020
The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM), which is led by Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt, issued a statement Thursday saying even if the state legislature doesn’t approve of an emergency extension, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders are still in effect and enforceable.
The statement (which is posted below) is at odds with one of the rationales that Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy stated in his refusal to enforce the governor’s stay-at-home order in regards to a Genoa Township mixed martial arts studio that reopened last week. He is one of at least half a dozen sheriffs’ in Michigan who say they will not enforce the governor’s order. Sheriffs’ in Shiawassee, Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties have also taken the same stance as Murphy, as has Antrim County Prosecutor Jim Rossiter.
Vailliencourt, the association’s president, said the statement represents a "general consensus" of their membership. "Like any law, it's presumed valid until a court says otherwise," but noted, they are primarily using community education about the health risks COVID‐19 presents. “In extreme circumstances, after being warned and educated, prosecutors have had to exercise their discretion and issue criminal charges. This has not been our preferred method on how to handle these alleged violations. We will continue to request that violations of the Executive Orders be investigated by the police and prosecutors will review those on a case‐by‐case basis to determine if criminal charges are appropriate. It is important for businesses and communities to remember that criminal penalties are not the only, or even primary way to enforce the orders. License sanctions or revocations by state agencies and local health departments are also possible. Likewise, the Attorney General’s Office and Michigan State Police can enforce criminal penalties for violations of the Executive Orders.”
However, the statement notes that its position is based on the fact that a state Court of Claims judge has yet to rule on a legal challenge of the emergency orders, and just such a ruling is on the way. Arguments are set to take place today in front of Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens on a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led Legislature against the governor and her emergency powers.
Following Thursday’s statement by PAAM, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she hoped the court would bring “clarity” to the issue, but said that in the meantime, the statement should serve as confirmation of the orders for law enforcement who "have questioned their ability to enforce the governor's order."
However, Murphy says the question of ultimate legality is only one aspect of his decision. He tells WHMI that the bottom line is, “Domestic Violence calls are increasing, Suicides are increasing, overdoses are increasing, and calls to assist folks in mental health crisis are increasing. These are emotionally intensive and labor intensive investigations. My office chooses to use our discretion in these investigations, not investigating whether 8 people at a bonfire are from the same family, or someone is in a store without a mask on. I have faith that the public is smart enough to police themselves on this matter.” Murphy says there are other enforcement arms to investigate violations of the orders, but that, “The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office will not be one.” He concluded that if residents aren’t happy with his decision, “the resolution is the ballot box.” Murphy is up for re-election in November, but has no opponent on the ballot.