2018-08-12 / News

Dispute over campaign signs ignites feud between Prosecutor Sharkey, Judge Scott

810-452-2640 • jhogan@mihomepaper.com

Prosecutor Michael Sharkey Prosecutor Michael Sharkey LAPEER — When can political candidates place campaign signs prior to an election? That’s a question that has embroiled Lapeer County Prosecutor Michael Sharkey and Probate Judge Justus C. Scott in controversy that has caught fire on social media as to who is correct in their understanding of campaign signage law.

Last April Sharkey announced he will challenge incumbent Scott for re-election as Lapeer County Probate Court Judge on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Sharkey’s bid for judgeship comes two years after he was elected prosecutor and in the middle of his first term.

Scott first took office as a probate judge on Jan. 1, 2001. Before being elected judge, Scott served in the Lapeer County’s Prosecuting Attorney’s office for 21 years. Sharkey was elected prosecuting attorney in 2016. He defeated incumbent Tim Turkelson in an August primary that year.

Judge Justus C. Scott Judge Justus C. Scott The campaign sign controversy started with a recent Letter to the Editor sent by Sharkey for publication in The County Press. The subject of the letter needed further investigation by The County Press and was not published prior to Tuesday’s primary election. Instead the newspaper reached out to the Michigan Bureau of Elections for clarification.

Lapeer County Clerk Theresa Spencer said it’s her understanding that placement of campaign signage is more a jurisdictional issue with local townships, villages and cities.

Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Dept. of State, on Thursday told The County Press, “The clerk is correct that it’s up to local ordinances.”

The Lapeer County Road Commission and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation have rules pertaining to the location of political signs and requires they be removed within 10 days after an election, but has no pre-election time restrictions. The road commission, local Dept. of Public Works and police agencies are authorized to remove campaign and yard sale signs, etc. that are deemed dangerous to safe traffic flow, such as being too close to roadways that may obscure drivers to oncoming vehicles.

Sharkey wrote in his letter: “The good people of this community have asked me, why am I not taking the campaign for Probate Court Judge seriously? Where are my campaign signs?”

Sharkey continued, “I tell them I am entirely serious and motivated to seek the probate judgeship. From the very beginning, in order to get my name on the ballot I had to collect at least 400 signatures on petitions. We exceeded 800 signatures. Furthermore, supporters of mine have seen Scott’s campaign signs up and have called me requesting campaign signs to put up in their yards. I have had to tell them my name is not on the August 7, 2018, primary ballot and neither is Scott’s. You won’t get a chance to vote for me until the November 6, 2018, general election.”

Sharkey’s letter further stated, “The campaign laws in almost all of the county’s townships, villages and cities that I am aware of expressly prohibit both Scott and me from putting up any campaign signs any earlier than 30 days prior to our election. As the Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney and Chief Law Enforcement Officer of Lapeer County, how hypocritical, deceitful and foolish would I look if I did not follow the law? Scott should answer why he thinks the same laws don’t apply to him. I reassure my supporters by telling them I have every intention of putting up campaign signs at the appropriate time as provided under the law.”

Scott submitted a response to Sharkey’s assertions. “I am writing in response to Mike Sharkey’s negative attacks regarding campaign signs. First I would like to tell the citizens of Lapeer County that I am making every effort to run a positive campaign… Unfortunately the first thing from Mike Sharkey is a negative attack to which I am forced to respond.”

Scott wrote, “I agree with Mike Sharkey that as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County that he should know the law…Here are the facts. In the case of Fehribach v City of Troy Michigan, 412 F. Supp 639, 2004 Eastern District of Michigan, the court held that a city ordinance that restricted political signs to 30 days prior to an election and limited the number of political signs to two signs per parcel was unconstitutional.”

The U.S. Supreme Court further affirmed, wrote Scott, the ruling found in the Fehribach case. “However, out of respect for the political subdivisions and the citizens of Lapeer County, I have voluntarily chose to abide by the existing ordinances. I have put up approximately 25 signs three weeks before the August primary… Mr. Sharkey seems to have forgotten that the August primary election was the date that he himself put on his signature petitions.”

Scott continued, “According to the Michigan Secretary of State, a judicial campaign starts six months before the election, thus beginning in February.” He said ordinance language in the City of Lapeer, Imlay and Metamora townships allows campaign signage, while Imlay City, Deerfield Township and Almont Township all have no starttime restrictions for political signs — only removal 10 days after the general election.

“I am a judge that reads the law and follows the law as it is written,” said Scott. “All of these ordinances are available on the internet. I only wish Mr. Sharkey would have called me first if he thought there was a problem or at least researched the law before he made these allegations.”

Sharkey fired back with a statement Friday morning. “If I thought he (Judge Scott) was an effective, honest, lawabiding, hard-working judge I wouldn’t be running against him. The true facts and evidence supporting my position will certainly be exposed over the course of this campaign. Furthermore, his response demonstrates how he is “fast and loose” with the facts starting with the number of assistant prosecuting attorneys I have.”

Sharkey continued, “Contrary to Scott’s claims, I am not running a private practice other than finishing up a few civil matters that I was involved with prior to being elected. This is well within what is permitted for all prosecutor since they are not criminal matters and interfere in any way with my duties as prosecutor.”

Sharkey’s statement concluded, “So therefore, game on. I look forward to further discourse on our different interpretations of the law, ethical duties and the required impartiality of a judge. Just to be clear, my main objective in this campaign is to continue my fight against the corruption in the Lapeer County Court system.”

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