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Fate of Detroit state senator still up in the air, after judge refuses to force resignation

A Wayne County judge sentenced Detroit state Senator Virgil Smith to ten months in jail Monday – but the court saga isn’t over just yet.

Smith had initially been charged with several felonies, after a violent domestic dispute with his ex-wife in May 2015.

But Smith cut a plea deal with prosecutors. He ended up pleading guilty to just one count, malicious destruction of property, for shooting up his ex-wife’s Mercedes.

At a sentencing hearing Monday, Judge Lawrence Talon sentenced Smith to ten months in jail, five years' probation, and drug and alcohol treatment.

But Talon nixed part of the plea deal that required Smith to resign his Senate seat.

Talon said it would be illegal for him to force Smith’s resignation, because “that power belongs to the people.”

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy objected to Talon’s ruling on that point, though. She said Smith agreed to the whole deal.

“If all the conditions are not accepted by the court, we will withdraw our plea,” Worthy said in a statement. “We are certain that we stand on solid legal ground.”

Talon set a March 28 hearing to decide that point.

In the meantime, Smith could resign voluntarily. If he doesn’t, the state Senate could start expulsion hearings.

A spokesperson for state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, says he still expects Smith to resign.

“If the senator does change his mind – if he is serving an extended period of time in jail, it would make it very difficult for him to also serve his constituents – and, so, I think we would have to at that point consider expulsion,” said spokesperson Amber McCann.

McCann says it’s too early to say when or how the Senate would proceed with expulsion hearings if they choose to take that route. 

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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