Roy Schmidt (Courtesy royschmidt.org)
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- The one-person grand jury in Lansing now investigating the effort to rig an election in Grand Rapids has considerable power to make witnesses testify and tell the truth.
"They have three alternatives," says Hon. Donald A. Johnston, chief judge of the 17th District Circuit Court. "They can tell the truth, they can try to lie and if we find out about it we can indict them for perjury, or they can refuse to answer -- in which case we will find them in contempt and remand them to the custody of the sheriff."
Judge Johnston was the last one-person grand jury in Kent County. He led the investigation into a Grand Rapids gang war that resulted in the indictment and conviction of 14 suspects.
"It was a very successful effort and worked quite well," he says.
The one person grand jury in Lansing will determine if any crimes were committed when State Rep. Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids switched from the Democratic Party to Republicans in May.
Rep. Schmidt and Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger coordinated the switch and the recruitment of a 22-year-old college student willing to run against Schmidt as a Democrat and then "take a dive" and throw the election for the 76th District House seat.
"It's a little tricky because the investigation itself is clearly political," points out Judge Johnston. "The persons being investigated are elected Republican officials. The grand juror will have to be particularly careful to handle the case very, very straightforwardly -- without any partisan bias -- because the process will be susceptible to criticism if it appears to be a partisan witch hunt. Which certainly the Republicans are going to allege no matter what happens."
Although his one-person grand jury investigation led to prosecutions and convictions, Judge Johnston says that isn't always the case.
"If the grand juror finds sufficient evidence she will return indictments, charge people," he explains. "I think every grand jury I'm familiar with has returned some indictments, but a certain number of investigations wind up going cold and don't go anywhere."
All of the grand jury testimony and presentation of evidence is done behind closed doors. Participants are all sworn to secrecy. Information is only released to the public when or if someone is indicted.
The one-person grand jury investigation must end after a maximum of one year.