Judge blocks release of Chatfield investigation documents

Michigan Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes preventing the release of numerous files and documents related to the investigation into former Michigan Speaker of the House and Eastern Upper Peninsula Representative Lee Chatfield. The order comes after a questionable procedure and order filing from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Documents including search warrants and affidavits pertaining to the state’s criminal probe of Chatfield were ordered to be released after an Ingham County District Court ruling. The suit was brought forward by a joint suit of Bridge Michigan Magazine and the Detroit Free Press and the ruling was made by 54-A District Court Judge Stacia Buchanan, with the documents set to be released on Nov. 22. According to Bridge, the reporter sent to pick up the documents was prevented from receiving any information, with the court stating that Stokes had overturned the lower court’s ruling and had closed the case without the opportunity for either news publication to respond.

“These search warrant affidavits were filed months and months ago, and they involve one of the most prominent elected officials in recent times. There is extreme public interest in this investigation, and we will continue to press for public knowledge of this matter,” Bridge Michigan CEO John Bebow said.

Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, emailed the publications, stating that the office would not comment on the legal efforts to prevent the release of any documents, citing potential overlap with other criminal investigations.

Documentation issues have been a consistent factor in the public perception of the Chatfield investigation. A previous request for documents through the Ingham County District Court were not given to Bridge and the Free Press, but a different release of documents was given to the Detroit News. However, the court later said that those documents were released in error and prevented any other citizens or news agencies from reviewing those documents. There are also questions about how the order may overrule state statute MCL 780.651, which limits the amount of time documents related to a search warrant are allowed to be withheld from the public.

Chatfield was first elected in 2015 as the representative for the 107th District, which, at the time, included the Mackinac Straits area of both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. He was investigated for numerous allegations, but no criminal charges were filed.