Macomb County, Michigan is a part of the Detroit-metropolitan area. The Macomb prosecutor, Eric Smith (in pic, right) like many County prosecutors around the US has an inflated view of himself and his powers as evidenced by the voice mail message quoted above and set out in the MLive.com account of a call (at the MLive link you can hear the recording of the call left on voice mail, for yourself) Prosecutor Smith made to James Perna, a candidate for commissioner running against Smith's brother. Here's reporter, Jeff Wattrick's story:
"Eric Smith, the Macomb County Prosecutor [ . . .] left a threatening and profane message on James Perna’s voicemail. Perna is running againg Smith’s brother, Clinton Township fire commissioner Bob Smith, for a Macomb County Commission seat. The dispute stems from a basically vanilla bit of negative campaigning. Perna sent out a campaign mailer claiming the entire Smith family has long relied on government jobs instead of working in the private sector. That banal slight led Smith to say this as Perna’s voicemail was recording:
"'Jim, this is Eric Smith. It’s 20 to 12. I’m glad you’re a man of your word, you lying mother******. Fine you want to take shots at my brother, he’s running against you. That’s fine. I think it’s a weak move but you want to do that, go ahead. You throw in my mom and my dad, who’s been dead for ten years…you mother*******. I am going f****** bury you. I hope you don’t mind, because you just opened the door.'
As political consultants Joe DiSano and Joe Munem point out on the Saturday edition of their 'To Guys Named Joe'podcast, Smith’s Henry Hill-esque voicemail may violate laws against using profanity in a threatening manner over the telephone. ct. 30, Joe DiSano on Two Guys Named Joe: This is a devastating situation for Eric Smith. I think there are legal implications to this. I mean this is a sitting county prosecutor threatening to bury someone."
In OurCounty, one of the finest local Small Court judges that I knew wanted to run for the OurCounty Court of Appeals. This Judge lined up the grass roots political support for the electoral run for this seat, but on the eve of a crucial party convention the local County Prosecutor and two other party bosses (notably: now charged or admitted federal corruption felons) informed the candidate Judge that he would withdraw from the race. In language not much different from that used by Smith, the OurCounty prosecutor told the Judge that his judicial career was over unless he withdrew from the race because he and his cronies had a politically preferred candidate.
The arrogance of these County prosecutors is astonishing, and yet it would be a mistake to think that this is a rare occurrence. This sort of thing went on in the decades before I became a lawyer and throughout my sordid career. As a young lawyer I spent a few years in the offices of the lawyers who ran the local GOP, lawyers, judges, contractors, mayors, politicians and people wanting something from politicians of all stripe sat around the lobby of this office. Favors and deals of all sorts were exchanged. You see, what you might think is an anomaly is in fact common practice. My fear is that with "reform" and the inevitable growth of "merit selection" of public positions including Judgeships--this sort of deal making continues but at a level you the voter will never be able to address. The dirty deals now done dirt cheap, will be institutionalized and beyond your purse.
Prosecutor Smith screwed up, royally. If he has half a brain, he will be convincing his brother to withdraw from the race; he'll report himself to disciplinary counsel; and, he'll issue an abject apology to the voters with a commitment to not repeat the error. If he's lucky he'll survive the public reprimand that he deserves, and he'll be able continue his career as a wiser and more circumspect public official. Right now, he's just a punk.