GUEST COLUMN: If we can’t trust Reader to be truthful on Facebook, how can we trust him to be truthful in office?

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Ragan Lake

I am alarmed that Republican candidate David Reader made a misleading post to his Facebook page alleging that Livingston County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt refused to charge a woman who had tweeted “the first city to burn in Michigan should be Howell.”

I am alarmed for two reasons:

First, it showed that Mr. Reader lacks the temperament to make an informed charging decision.

Second, it appears that Mr. Reader — a retired judge and former public official — knowingly misrepresented a fact to his Facebook followers in order to gain political advantage.

Based on his post, Mr. Reader appears to be willing to charge this individual with a crime based solely on the limited information provided to the public through the media. Mr. Reader seems to believe there is no need for law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations.

There are multiple reasons why prosecutors cannot rush to charge. The most important reason is to prevent a case from being charged, going to trial and the defendant being acquitted, and then additional evidence is found that would almost certainly have resulted in a conviction had it been available at the trial.

Think about the infamous 1988 Kentucky murder case involving Melvin Ignatow, who was acquitted of murdering his girlfriend Brenda Schaefer in a jury trial. Six months after the acquittal, undeveloped film was found that contained photographs that showed Ignatow torturing Brenda the night he killed her, and which supported the testimony of a key witness at the trial.

Double jeopardy precluded Ignatow from being retried on the murder charge, so he literally got away with murder, although he eventually pleaded guilty to perjury.

This is why prosecutors must be diligent in investigating claims of wrongdoing, and wait until they have all the facts available before they make a decision on whether to charge. There are no second chances.

It also costs money to prosecute cases. It is a waste of taxpayer resources to charge a case and then get an acquittal or dismissal because the case wasn’t sufficiently investigated to determine that charges should not have been filed. When cases aren’t investigated thoroughly and end up being dismissed, it can result in civil lawsuits being filed against prosecuting officials, which the county is required to pay to defend, as the recent lawsuit filed against Prosecutor William Vailliencourt by a former probation officer illustrates.

The lives of innocent people can be turned upside down if they have to defend against an unwarranted case and could result in them being wrongfully convicted.

Mr. Reader’s post also calls into question whether, as prosecutor, he would have the courage not to charge if the evidence did not warrant it in a very public case.

The post itself is extraordinarily reckless. If this individual is charged and Mr. Reader is elected prosecutor, his office will be responsible for prosecuting this case. Prosecutors have a heightened duty when it comes to speaking to the media — including social media — about their cases because of their ability to influence public opinion. Prosecutors have an obligation to ensure an accused has a fair trial, and a worst case interpretation of this particular post could be that it is an attempt by Mr. Reader to taint the pool of potential jurors.

I find it ironic that Reader ended his post “Justice for All” when he doesn’t seem to understand what that means.

“All” means everybody, regardless of race, sex, religion, gender identification, sexual orientation, etc. It also means the accused as well as the victim. Here we have an individual who hasn’t even been accused yet, and Mr. Reader is treating her as if she has already been tried and convicted.

Justice requires a fair process. Fundamental to a fair process is that an individual is allowed to exercise the rights afforded to them. One of the most important of these rights is the presumption of innocence.

Criminal Jury Instruction 1.9 is an instruction Mr. Reader would have been required to read to jurors before the start of each criminal trial and sets forth the presumption of innocence. Since Mr. Reader seems to have forgotten the text of this jury instruction since his retirement, I would remind him that the first sentence of this instruction reads, “A person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent.”

If Mr. Reader is so concerned about justice, why does he not post about the need for justice in the case of George Floyd and other African-Americans who have died in relation to law enforcement activities? Why does he not tell voters his plans as prosecutor to ensure that never happens in Livingston County?

I believe it is possible that Mr. Reader’s apparent disregard of the considerations that go into prosecuting a case and his rush to judgment could reflect his lack of prosecutorial experience.

To my knowledge, Mr. Reader has never worked as an assistant prosecutor. As a judge, he has only seen the cases that are charged and has no experience with the cases that are not charged or with making a charging decision. This lack of experience could explain his snap judgment that charges are warranted before the investigation is complete.

And I also wonder that if being elected Livingston County Prosecutor is so important to Mr. Reader, why he didn’t try to gain experience working or volunteering for a prosecutor’s office after he retired from his judgeship and before he decided to run for the office. By actually working in a prosecutor’s office, Mr. Reader could have familiarized himself with the issues prosecutor’s offices are facing. He states that change is needed in the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office, but he has yet to identify exactly what needs to change and how he plans to cause it.

I am also concerned that Reader posted this message to Facebook knowing it was false. Mr. Reader is a lawyer and officer of the court. As such, he has at least a moral obligation, if not an ethical obligation, to be truthful to his Facebook followers.

It is also troubling that even after Mr. Reader was called out for the falsity of his post, rather than apologizing for it, he compounded it by, according to news articles, claiming that Howell businesses were closed because of the tweet when they were in fact closed because of the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

If Mr. Reader is willing to be so loose with the truth as a candidate, how are citizens supposed to trust him as prosecutor to tell the truth about the cases his office is handling, especially when there is great public interest in these cases?

Going forward, I am eager to hear how my fellow candidates intend to address the issues that are really impacting prosecutor’s offices, such as conviction integrity, use of excessive force by law enforcement, and racial profiling. These are the issues voters want to know how we’ll handle heading into November.

Ragan Lake is an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, as well as the only Democrat seeking the nomination for Livingston County Prosecutor. She is running as part of a slate of candidates opposed to gerrymandering that includes County Clerk candidate Jordan Genso and County Treasurer candidate Dan Luria.

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