Judge orders Chatfield to testify in Inman trial

House Speaker Lee Chatfield at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

A federal judge in Grand Rapids has denied state House Speaker Lee Chatfield’s attempt to avoid testifying in the case of indicted state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg). 

An attorney for Chatfield (R-Levering) last week moved to quash the order to testify, as the Advance reported, arguing that the speaker would be a “nonessential witness in the corruption case in which Inman is accused of attempted bribery, extortion and lying to federal law officials. 

The trial is slated to begin on Tuesday.

Chatfield files motion to avoid testifying in Inman case

Chief Judge Robert Jonker with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan feels otherwise, writing, “The Court is satisfied the Speaker’s testimony is important to any jury’s evaluation of the issues.” 

Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro declined to comment on the order that the speaker must testify, but confirmed that Chatfield intends to comply. 

The court denied the argument put forth by Chatfield’s attorney that there was “any applicable privilege” that should allow him to avoid testimony. Jonker also wrote that the court and the government would call for Chatfield’s testimony at a time so as to avoid disrupting his legislative duties.

Court filing: Inman sought contributions from electrical workers union

“The Court is satisfied that logistical hurdles can be readily managed,” Jonker wrote.

Text messages submitted as evidence in the case, which is set to go to trial on Dec. 3, show Inman communicating with Chatfield, as well as other lawmakers and GOP staffers before and after a vote last summer to repeal prevailing wage, the vote that’s at the heart of the case against Inman.

Chatfield was speaker pro tem at the time.

While Inman has denied wrongdoing, text messages show him seeking campaign contributions from union officials in exchange for a “no” vote on the matter, although he ultimately voted to repeal the law. 

‘There’s a gray area’: Campaign finance experts weigh in on Inman bribery case 

Campaign finance experts have previously told the Advance that the case against Inman appears to be a clear cut case of political corruption. 

In his Tuesday opinion, Jonker wrote that a “properly instructed jury” will be “in the best position to weigh the issues in play and determine whether the solicitations at issue here crossed the line between lawful — albeit unseemly — politics as usual, into criminal quid pro quo attempts at extortion or solicitation of bribes.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.