By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – Charges the city filed against a former mayoral candidate have been dismissed.
In a negotiated resolution Thursday, 27th District Court Judge Randy Kalmbach accepted a motion to dismiss charges against Bill Towle filed by city representatives claiming Towle violated election laws during his run for mayor in 2011 after Towle pleaded no contest and received fines totaling $150.
Towle said he was not present when some of his petitions were signed, one of the arguments in the original complaint, but it was a “technical violation” that should have been brought up with the canvassing board.
Towle’s lawyer, Robert Forrest of Detroit law firm Kerr Russell and Weber PLC., said in his motion to dismiss filed March 28 that Towle, a frequent critic of Mayor Tim Durand and city councilors, was targeted for practicing free speech.
“This prosecution represents just one act in a protracted series of hostile acts that city officials have committed against Mr. Towle for his exercise of protected free speech,” he said in the motion. “This prosecution is unconstitutionally vindictive, selective and discriminatory.”
Towle was arrested March 8 by Riverview police on charges stemming from a report that he had forged signatures on nominating petitions for the election and had not circulated all of his own petitions.
According to court documents, the Riverview Police Department’s investigation did not find any fraudulent signature on Towle’s petitions. Police reports show one signature did not match on petitions for Towle and his running mate, Bill Prucknic, but the investigation found the discrepancy was caused by an elderly woman whose husband signed her name for her due to hand tremors.
Several witnesses, however, did say they signed the petition without Towle present. Towle had signed the nominating petition stating he had circulated his own petitions.
According to the police report, the original complaint was made Dec. 6 by Councilman Elmer Trombley.
Forrest said the case is the first recommended prosecution of its kind under Michigan election law. Furthermore, he said it is rare for a city to investigate matters having to do with its own elections.
Wayne County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Luke Skywalker recommended one count of false statement in nominating petitions Feb. 13. Towle turned himself in to Riverview police March 8, where he was processed and released on bond.
“Typically, these cases arise from referrals from the board of election in Lansing, not from a local police department,” Forrest said. “I think the way this case arose, the reviewing (Wayne County prosecuting) attorney didn’t have the background contained in the motion when the warrant was issued … he had no idea of the animosity toward Mr. Towle when this thing was brought, and the prosecutor was put in an awkward situation as a result.”
Forrest said the motion he made is only used in rare cases.
“In this case it was appropriately brought,” he said. “I’m sure had we litigated it to its conclusion, we think we would have prevailed.”
Towle said he was glad the charges were dismissed.
“The charges should have never been brought to begin with,” he said.
Calls to the office of the mayor, city council and city manager were not returned by press time.