Sen. Virgil Smith resigns his seat in Michigan Senate

LANSING — Sen. Virgil Smith submitted a letter of resignation to the state Senate Thursday, effective April 12.

The one-sentence resignation simply said he resigns as a senator, said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

“It’s just good to have resolution,” she said.

The resignation ends a controversial saga that began last May when Smith’s ex-wife Anistia Thomas went to Smith’s Detroit home and found another woman in Smith’s bed. Thomas has said Smith punched her and rammed her head into the floor and wall when she was inside his home. Once she was outside the home, she said, Smith fired shots at her car.

“For the sake of the victims and voters I am relieved that this issue is finally put to rest. We will keep our focus on ensuring the people of the 4th Senate district have access to the services and help they deserve,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, in a statement. “Every voter should have a voice in Lansing, and so I hope the governor moves swiftly to schedule a special election.”

Smith has said that Thomas began to attack the other woman and he removed her from the house. He also acknowledged that he fired his weapon toward the car.

It was those shots fired into her Mercedes-Benz that resulted in felony charges of malicious destruction of property over $20,000, using a firearm during the commission of a felony and a misdemeanor domestic violence charge being filed against Smith.

In a deal struck with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office, Smith pleaded guilty to the destruction of property charge and was sentenced to 10 months in the Wayne County Jail, five years of probation. He also must refrain from using alcohol, comply with mental health treatment and stay away from his ex-wife.

But it was the condition that he resign his seat as a state senator that caused the most friction. Wayne County Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon said Smith could be expelled by fellow Senators or recalled by voters, but that he couldn’t impose that punishment.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy asked that the plea deal be voided and the case scheduled for trial, but Talon declined that request on Monday.

Worthy’s office indicated Thursday that an appeal of Talon’s ruling will go forward.

“The resignation will not change the decision of the WCPO to will seek leave to appeal the decision of the judge in this matter,” said Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Worthy..

The resignation won’t be able to be read into the Senate’s journal until April 12 when the Legislature returns from a two-week spring break. As a result, Smith will receive one more paycheck from his $71,685 annual salary – $2,757 minus deductions for taxes, health care and retirement accounts.

With the submission of the letter, the Senate can avoid an expulsion hearing, which senators were beginning to think might be necessary if Smith continued to decline to resign the seat he’s held since 2009. Without a resignation, Smith would continue to collect his salary, plus benefits, even while he was serving a sentence in the Wayne County Jail.

But now, he’ll only be paid through April 9.

Gov. Rick Snyder will have to call for a special election to fill the Senate seat, but can’t do so until Smith’s resignation becomes official, said Snyder spokesman Ari Adler.

Former state Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, said Thursday he plans to run for the seat, but one person widely expected to seek the job – former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who lost to Smith in 2014 – has taken herself out of the race.

“While I believe I am well-positioned to run a successful campaign, I believe my position with Sugar Law Center Economic & Social Justice is the best way for me to help defend my community against the injustices we face,” she said in a statement. “In the past 12 months, I have been able to work on lawsuits addressing environmental injustices, like the dumping of coke breeze on the Detroit River, air quality in Detroit, support the emergency manager lawsuit, and advocate for a community benefits process so that residents have a seat at the table for fair and equitable development.”

The most likely timing for a special election for the seat would be the Aug. 2 primary election and Nov. 8 general election. Ballots for the May 3 election have already been printed and sent to some absentee voters, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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