LANSING - Michigan senators on a special select committee began reviewing details yesterday of recent instances in which one of their own allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.
The much-anticipated inquiry that could lead to his removal from office is expected to last through tomorrow.
Attorneys for Republican state Sen. David Jaye of Macomb County contend the assaults either never took place or were misunderstood by witnesses or by his fiancee.
Should Senator Jaye be given the boot, it would be the first such expulsion in the 164-year history of the state.
As they entered the hearing room, attorneys for Senator Jaye protested that they were being “railroaded.” Phil Thomas, lead attorney, said the process was called hastily for the specific purpose of “trampling our client's rights to due process. Imagine if this were you or me. What would you do? They haven't given us adequate time to prepare for this,” he said.
Mr. Jaye learned last week he would face the examination.
“I'm innocent,” protested Senator Jaye as he pushed passed a phalanx of reporters and entered the hearing room. As the three Republicans and three Democrats on the committee listened to law enforcement officers outline Senator Jaye's alleged misdeeds, he sat in a corner vehemently shaking his head.
Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter, a Republican from the western suburbs of Detroit, said the committee intends to call 27 witnesses to establish “a pattern of behavior” that would show Mr. Jaye has engaged in behavior “unbecoming a senator.”
In the ornate hearing room with luxurious cherry paneling and a lofty gilded ceiling, the atmosphere was less uplifting than the architecture, as committee members traded noxious barbs with Mr. Jaye's attorneys over rules that would govern the process. Republican Party leaders and Senator Jaye's three-man legal team have aired inflammatory charges and counter-charges in news reports leading up to the start of the inquiry.
Seeing the senator as an embarrassment to their party, state GOP leaders are leading the charge to rid state government of the lawmaker. Meanwhile, Senator Jaye has called the action against him a “public lynching.”
Senator McCotter made it clear his panel will consider much more information about the alleged assaults than a judge would allow to be entered into a judicial proceeding.
He said such practice is in keeping with typical Senate hearings, and that the committee is not bound by the “presumption of innocence” accorded defendants in American courts of law.
Joseph Sheeran, prosecuting attorney for Bay County, Mich., told the committee about an alleged assault in November in which Senator Jaye “slapped his girlfriend, he kicked her, and forced her into his car” at a gas station in Bay City.
Mr. Sheeran said he has as many as 45 witnesses to the incident, which occurred at the end of a weekend hunting trip. He is still preparing to file charges against Mr. Jaye.
The senator also faces assault charges in Fort Myers, Fla., arising from an April 12 incident involving the same woman, Sonia Kloss.
Miss Kloss has been subpoenaed to testify and probably will appear today, said Fred Hall, an attorney presenting evidence against Mr. Jaye.
The Michigan Constitution provides that the Senate may “reprimand, censure, or expel” any member by approving a resolution to do so.
Two-thirds of the state's 38 senators must favor the expulsion.
The resolution under consideration by the committee identifies “a recurring pattern of personal misconduct” by Mr. Jaye, including “multiple criminal convictions with jail time, a record of abusive, intimidating, and violent behavior” and “misuse of his position as state senator to intimidate legislative staff members.”
Some of those former Jaye underlings are expected to testify. Senator Jaye's attorneys said they will counter by producing dozens of witnesses who will tell the committee the senator is a “wonderful guy” and a “credit to the community.”