Sheriff's right to office challenged

A Kalkaska County man contends a paperwork foul-up means Sheriff David Israel has no legal right to hold that office, and county officials will have their attorney weigh in on the allegation.
Tribune News Service
Sep 6, 2012


Walter L. Sbresny, a medical marijuana advocate who faces a pending criminal drug charge, said he uncovered irrefutable evidence that Israel's legal claim to the office was voided after he failed to give his signed oath of office to the county clerk within the time prescribed by law. That means arrests, charges and convictions tied to sheriff's operations since Israel took office in January 2009 should be thrown out, Sbresny said.

"All of these cases put the county at great risk of litigation," he said. "This has got to be dealt with."

Israel acknowledged he may have turned in his oath later than the law requires — but said if that happened, it wasn't intentional.

"It's my job to uphold the law, and I would never deliberately not do something that I was supposed to do," he said.

Michigan laws presented by Sbresny to a committee of the county board of commissioners Wednesday afternoon appear to require elected officials to file a signed oath within 60 days. County Clerk Deborah Hill said Israel, sworn in Dec. 29, 2008, did not file his oath until June 2009.

"State law mandates that if it's not filed within 60 days, the office is void and vacant," Sbresny said. "There is no questioning state law."

Hill reviewed laws cited by Sbresny, but said it's not clear if Sbresny's legal conclusions are sound.

"I would certainly say it's something that has to be researched," she said. "It's open for interpretation, and somebody needs to interpret it."

County Commissioner Stu McKinnon said the board would decide its next steps after a legal review.

"Any time documentation like this get presented to the board in this manner, we forward it to counsel for review," he said. "If something is being done wrong, we need to fix it."

The county's attorney, Lansing-based Peter Cohl, couldn't be reached for comment.

Sbresny said Israel couldn't have sworn in deputies if he wasn't legally holding the office of sheriff. Israel said it shouldn't matter if his deputies are sworn police officers in the eyes of the state.

"He's digging for something that isn't there," Israel said. "The important part here is they're all ... certified through the state. They all have their credentials."

Sbresny planned to send his documentation to Michigan State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Gov. Rick Snyder's office, among other agencies.

Israel contends Sbresny, who had a high-profile feud with late Kalkaska County Prosecutor Brian Donnelly — who was close to Israel — is filing his complaints for political reasons. Sbresny also is a public supporter of Bruce Soloway, Israel's opponent in the November election.

— By Art Bukowski, Traverse City Record-Eagle (MCT)


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