Ethics Violation Complaint Filed Against Pirich, Michigan Board of Ethics Chair

I’ve filed a complaint with the Michigan State Board of Ethics against the chair of that same body, John D. Pirich.

As with all things legal, let’s start with the definitions:

Ethics: The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.

State of Michigan, Board of Ethics: In accordance with the State Ethics Act, the Board has jurisdiction to determine the ethical conduct of classified or unclassified state employees, and public officers of the executive branch of Michigan state government who are appointed by the Governor or another executive department official.

Okay, now let’s review the facts:

The conservative super PAC, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, wished to challenge the validity of the 226,637 petition signatures submitted in February this year by Stand Up for Democracy, a statewide coalition that campaigned to have Michigan’s controversial Emergency Manager Law placed on the November 2012 ballot for a referendum vote.  Since the minimum number of required valid signatures was only 161,305, and the petitioners exceeded that amount by 40 percent, the task of invalidating enough individual signatures was not a possibility for the challengers.

In March of 2012, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility employed the services of John D. Pirich, an attorney specializing in election and campaign law. They asked him to find some way, any way, to invalidate the petitions and thereby silence the voices of over a quarter million Michigan voters and further erode democracy in Michigan.

Pirich, not wishing to let his client down, decided instead to let his ethics fall by the wayside. He erroneously found the font size of the heading on the petition to be out of compliance with the legal requirement. He claimed it was too small.

Only thing is, it’s not. In fact, it is exactly the correct size — font 14. The law does not state what style font must be used — it could be printed in comic sans and be perfectly legal. Each font style produces a slight variation in overall letter size even though the font number size is the same, as demonstrated here by Eclectablog, and as legally sworn in the printer’s affidavit obtained when the petitions were produced. Mr. Pirich is clearly behaving either incompetently or flat-out unethically.

But, that is not why I filed my complaint. Indeed, the State Ethics Act does not even address outright lying or the inability to perform one’s job with, at the very least, minimal competency.

Not to worry — the veracity of Pirich’s assertion on the font size will soon be tested at the Court of Appeals.

The problem is…Pirich sits on the State Board of Ethics. In fact, Governor Snyder just appointed him as chair of that otherwise august body. (The timing of this appointment coincides rather suspiciously with Pirich’s false font finding, which begs the question of additional ethical problems at a higher level). Nonetheless, Pirich is a public officer of the executive branch and therefore his behavior is subject to the code he is charged with enforcing. Although the ethics board operates only in an advisory capacity, its word still carries considerable weight.

My official beef with this guy can be found in The State Code of Ethics Section 2, Sub-section 4, which reads:  A public officer or employee shall not solicit or accept a gift or loan of money, goods, services, or other thing of value for the benefit of a person or organization, other than the state, which tends to influence the manner in which the public officer or employee or another public officer or employee performs official duties.

The phrase “another public officer” is key to this complaint.

Enter Jeffrey Timmer, a principal of the Sterling Corporation and member of the Board of State Canvassers, the body charged with validation of the petitions. The Sterling Corporation is a significant financial backer of the super PAC, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.

Impropriety much?

Timmer needed a reason, no matter how tenuous, to hang his hat on when he voted “no” on the certification of the petitions. Ditto, his fellow Republican colleague on the board, Norman Shinkle. Both voted against certification, specifically citing Pirich’s font claim. The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2 to 2, and the petitions were denied certification and therefore their rightful place on the ballot.

With money laundered through his corporation and then the super PAC, Timmer paid Pirich to render a false finding which he subsequenlty used as the basis for his vote.

Following is the text of my complaint dated May 5, 2012: 

“Complaint:  John D. Pirich, Michigan State Board of Ethics Chair, knowingly and willfully violated Section 2, Subsection 4 of Act 196 of 1973, commonly the “State Ethics Act”.

Pirich accepted compensation for services that benefited Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a political action committee, which upon Pirich’s counsel provided flawed evidence of dubious origins (see attachments) that was used to unduly and unethically create bias among members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in their April 26, 2012 decision as to the certification of the petition signatures gathered by the ballot question committee Stand Up for Democracy.”

This will be an interesting test of the ethics of the Board of Ethics itself. Their seven members would need to have been living under a rock to be unaware of the fact that their colleague, and now newly annoited leader, Mr. Pirich, was the party that asserted the font size falsehoods (or as he likes to call it, “the fatal flaw”) which the Board of Canvassers used as reason to deny certification of the petitions. And, Pirich was not at all shy with the media about his claim — his fake font facts where widely reported by both state and national media, all generously laden with his quotes.

Timing is everything. The State Board of Ethics convenes their next public meeting on May 10th, 2012. My snail-mailed complaint will arrive just hours prior to that meeting, giving them insufficient time to conduct a diligent investigation, as required by law. Their next meeting is scheduled for August of this year — well after the Court of Appeals will have ruled on the font size question.

We shall see…

Update: Pirich exonerated himself of the complaint.

Amy Kerr Hardin



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15 Responses to Ethics Violation Complaint Filed Against Pirich, Michigan Board of Ethics Chair

  1. Chris Savage says:

    Well done, Amy. I look forward to seeing how this progresses. With the decks so blatantly stacked against us, this will be an uphill battle, I suspect.

  2. recall snyder says:

    Great job.

  3. Lou Ann McKimmy says:

    Thank you Amy………for all of us who believe in democracy and ethics.

  4. Kevin says:

    Amy: an invaluable teammate who will say and do the “right thing.” Your words help guide us to keep on fighting though our darkest hour. We will never resign ourselves to this corruption, tyranny and injustice. Shame on Mr. Pirich, Mr. Timmer, and Mr. Snyder!

    “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”
    -Mahatma Gandhi

  5. Betty Palm says:

    Is there any way to do a class action with respect to this?

    • admin says:

      Betty, The filing was specific to an individual, and the rules are clear that they do not accept multiple similar filings. Since the Ethics Board is only advisory in nature, and weak of ethical spine to be sure, I feel our better route is to await the Court of Appeals ruling and to file a complaint with the Michigan Bar Assoiciation, and with the Michigan Trial Lawyers too, against Pirich. Since it is rather obvious he acted in violation of their principles, that is the better venue for recourse and redress. There, we will be afforded the full power of class action… and we’ve got a significant number of people ready to do so. Amy

  6. Nancy Koontz says:

    Thank you for taking action, we are with you, you are the example for all citizens, this is the advocacy we are called to follow in order to keep our rights, dignity, freedom, respect and values that are in danger of disapearing.

  7. Paul M Piche says:

    Thank You Amy !

  8. Karen St John says:

    How about bringing this to the attention of the Federal Department of Justice? They are working to prevent voting suppresion in other states.

  9. Debbie says:

    It’s great that you are doing something about this Subversion of Democracy. Could you send a copy of your complaint to the Justice Department so they could look into this?

  10. Jamie Way says:

    Thank you so much for you actions. My mother and I will be watching closely. We are from Muskegon and have been closely involved in these events. I personally am astounded at the extent at which these groups have gone to suppress the voices of the people. Politics shouldn’t be about beating down the other side and trying to rule supreme but to fairly represent your constituents, all your constituents, in the matters of the state. What the heck is going on in this country. Keep up the good work and thanks again.
    Jamie and Toni Way

  11. Can you give an update on the status of this Ethics Complaint please. Free Detroit No Consent is assembling a growing number of Ethics Complaints on various persons in City of Detroit government. We are looking to do the same at the State and perhaps go to the Federal level if there is limited action taken locally.

  12. Dianne Seelhoff says:

    Any idea on what to do if our City keeps breaking their charter rules? Who to complain to: for instance, we have a charter rule, Sec. 14:3 that says, in effect that a City shall not … divert the usage of a public park without 50% of the electorates decision in a vote.

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