INSIDE THE NEWSROOM #3 – BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR
Very rarely have we ever held a letter to the editor.
The handful of letters we have refused were because they were blatantly slanderous or obvious attempts at gaining free advertising or the guy who seemed to be hinting that he had a box of war trophies from Vietnam which may have included human body parts. (I’ll share that letter later.)
Long story short: If you want to get your letter to the editor published, don’t make personal attacks, don’t slander anyone, don’t write anything that cannot be confirmed, and don’t send a sour grapes screed disguised as an attempt to correct the record.
Oh, and no swearing—that’s my job, dammit!
On Nov. 19, I received correspondence from Bob Taylor of Boyne City regarding the most recent story pertaining to Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney Allen Telgenhof and a complaint Taylor had filed against the prosecutor.
Taylor, apparently unhappy with the Boyne City Gazette’s latest article—which stated that the Michigan Appeals Court dismissed nearly all of his appeal of the complaints a lower court ruled were not sufficient to warrant a grand jury investigation—communicated his displeasure in a rather lengthy letter to the Boyne City Gazette.
Upon careful consideration of Taylor’s claims, the Boyne City Gazette editorial board—consisting of myself and Boyne City Gazette Publisher Chris Faulknor—responded that we would not be publishing Taylor’s letter in the newspaper. (It’s a small board.)
Why would we do such a thing?
Doesn’t that prove that we’re biased/evil/big old meanies?
Following is Taylor’s letter along with the explanation of why we would not be publishing it in the newspaper. I have elaborated on a few points since sending my response to Taylor where further explanation seemed necessary.
Taylor’s letter appears in full … as does my e-mailed response to his attorney.
Letter to the Editor/Guest Commentary By Robert Taylor
I am writing this letter to take issue with the article titled “Michigan Court Denies Most of Telgenhof Complaint,” printed on Nov. 4, 2015.
The article states that the Court of Appeals reaffirmed a lower court’s finding that the request for a grand jury investigation “had no merit.”
This is simply false.
The Honorable Judge Allen, the lower court judge in this case, stated the following regarding the allegations:
1) domestic violence – “the Court cannot conclude there is probable cause to believe that either offense alleged by the Petitioner was committed so the Court will not authorize any one person grand jury based upon these allegations. The Court would further note that, without the apparent cooperation of the victim, it would be very difficult to prove either charge”
2) Credit Card Misuse – “The Court does not find probable cause exists to investigate this allegation”
3) Breaking and Entering – “The petition attaches no affidavits or other documentary evidence to establish that the events described occurred. Therefore, no probable cause exists.”
In my response, I argued that the previous paragraphs were, in effect, showing that she felt there was not enough evidence to merit further investigation. —Gohs
Nowhere does the lower court or the Court of Appeals state that the petition for a grand jury “had no merit.”
Again, I never quoted nor asserted that I was quoting the court as saying there was no merit. I merely made an astute observation. If Judge Allen felt there was merit to move forward with a grand jury investigation, she would have ordered one. She did not. Therefore, no merit. —Gohs
Just the opposite can be found in the Court of Appeals decision which took issue with the lower court’s decision not to investigate the allegations of an election law violation and perjury under the election law.
The Court of Appeals stated that “the trial court read the conciliation agreement too broadly. The conciliation agreement addressed only alleged violations of the Campaign Finance Act, not the Michigan Election law.”
Cleary, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court used the incorrect law to make its determination.
The Court of Appeals stated that a violation of the Campaign Finance Act “does not bear on the current allegations that, as the public-officer-elect, the subject failed to file a Compliance Affidavit prior to taking office in violation of MCL 168.848, and that the Affidavit he eventually filed contained false statements.”
The Court of Appeals sent this case back to the lower court, Judge Allen, for a decision on both election law violations.
I feel that I clearly explained all that in my original story. Therefore, I did not feel Taylor’s criticism of such warranted space on the opinion page. —Gohs
The “further proceedings” as described in the Nov. 4, 2015, article is false. The case has not been sent back to the lower court for a conciliation agreement whatsoever.
Never in my story did I claim the matter was sent to the lower court for a conciliation agreement. Not sure from where the confusion arose.—Gohs
The Court of Appeals sent it back for the lower court to use the correct law and determine if a grand jury investigation is appropriate.
Both the lower court and the Court of Appeals have stated the fact that Mr. Telgenhof was required to file an Compliance Affidavit prior to assuming office.
Mr. Telgenhof took office on January 1, 2013.
He filed this Affidavit on October 29, 2013, 10 months late.
Those facts are in black and white.
I sent this matter to the Attorney General’s office two times for investigation.
Mr. Telgenhof only filed the affidavit after receiving a telephone call from the Crimial Division Chief Richard Cunningham of the Attorney General’s Office.
Mr. Telgenhof admitted to this as reported earlier in this paper and stated it publicly in a County Board meeting on Nov. 13, 2013.
To not charge him with a crime he already admitted to just shows me and the public that it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you are.
All of the preceding is Taylor stating an opinion on the matter. It in no way constitutes a mistake in my story. Therefore, there was no cause to devote space on the opinion page to it.—Gohs
The Attorney General’s office first declined to investigate Mr. Telgenhof in October of 2013 and instead called him and told him to file the Affidavit.
After Mr. Telgenhof was fined by the Bureau of Elections for not filing a required report in April 2014, I asked the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit to investigate the failure to file the Affidavit timely and the fact that the Affidavit contained a false statement which is perjury.
The case was again given to Mr. Cunningham and he declined to investigate the case again.
After the second denial in July of 2014, Attorney General Shuette, who was running for re-election in 2014, put out a list of prosecuting attorneys and sheriffs who supported him.
In October, AG Schuette listed Mr. Telgenhof as a supporter.
So, the AG gives a sitting prosecutor a “pass” on clear violations of election law and then solicits that very prosecutor for support in his re-election campaign.
Whether the aforementioned is true does not matter. It is more statements by Taylor which do not apply to the story I wrote and not in any way an error on the part of myself or the Boyne City Gazette. Once again, it warranted no editorial space.—Gohs
In my opinion, Judge Allen did everything in her power to sweep this under the rug.
Now it is back in her court with instructions to look at the election law violations again, but this time use the correct law and standard.
I and the public are waiting to see if the law will prevail or the person’s title and position will prevail.
The preceding is more opinion statements by Taylor. These claims he makes have nothing to do with the story I wrote and do not warrant clarification, correction nor retraction.—Gohs
The preceding were the claims made by Taylor along with my responses to the claims.
Following is a further explanation I e-mailed to Taylor’s lawyer explaining why the Boyne City Gazette would not be publishing his letter to the editor.
Benjamin J. Gohs’ e-mail response
I can address Bob Taylor’s major claims right away.
1. My story never stated that the case was sent back to make a conciliation agreement. He should reread that part. All I was doing there was explaining that the matter which had to be reexamined by Judge Allen had to do with the matter which had already been settled. It was not intended to mean a conciliation agreement needed to be made anew.
Following is the section where I explained what I meant in the story:
• The “further proceedings” referred to involve a conciliation agreement between Telgenhof and the state regarding a campaign finance issue which was resolved several years ago.
• The lower court told Taylor the conciliation agreement barred any further action against Telgenhof regarding an issue with his campaign finance reports and a campaign finance compliance affidavit—again, both issues were already resolved.
• The technicality arises in that the appeals court ruled that the conciliation agreement only covered the campaign finance reports and not the compliance affidavit.
So, the appeals court has sent the matter back to the lower court to reconsider the initial finding to see if:
a. The lower court judge found any evidence that there was intent to defraud on Telgenhof’s part. The judge already ruled that there was no such evidence.
b. The lower court judge is also being asked to determine whether Taylor ever mentioned the issue concerning the campaign finance compliance affidavit in his complaint to the Michigan Secretary of State. He did not.
2. By the fact that Judge Allen dismissed the entire complaint, that was an act of showing his complaint had no merit. If the case had any merit, other than the technicality noted by the appeals court, the appeals court surely would have reversed more of Judge Allen’s decision.
2.5. The case being sent back to Judge Allen is on a technicality, and little more. Regardless if she changes her ruling to demand some remedy be made for the alleged infraction.
3. Taylor’s opinion that the judge worked hard to sweep the matter under the rug is merely his opinion and not a fact.
I really don’t see any reason to publish any of Taylor’s response.
I gave ample time for a response while I was working on the story in the first place but I never received any comment.
I’m certainly not going to let someone pick apart my work and give the public the incorrect impression that my story had numerous factual errors when it did not.
It sounds to me like Taylor is upset that his throwing everything and the kitchen sink against the wall and hoping something would stick did not work out.
Benjamin J. Gohs