Michael Wilcox, Publisher/Editor
As if the Scozzari killing didn’t give Clare County a major black eye, now comes the murder of Floyd Dennis. Dennis, 68, the Harrison Board of Education treasurer, was found dead in what some might describe as a “love shack” in Temple. His 32-year-old girlfriend, Oanh Bass, was fingered, then jailed, allegedly for putting a bullet hole through Dennis.
That’s pretty much all we know even though the murder happened nearly four months ago. We don’t know more because court officials took it on their own to suppress court files. Rick Mills, Editor of the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun and his staff have been pursuing those public records for three months. They have been stonewalled by our public officials- Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis, Magistrate Karen Willing, and 80th District Judge Josh Farrell.
The records they have sought, and now we are seeking, are PUBLIC. They are not subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. They are open under common law and under the Michigan Constitution.
In order to seal such records, Ambrozaitis has to file a written motion, and if the sitting judge agrees after examining every less-restrictive option, it can be sealed. If it is sealed the Court must notify the Michigan Supreme Court or the Michigan Court Administrative Office.
Of course, none of this was done in Clare County. Ambrozaitis ordered Willing to seal the records- in this case the affidavit used to obtain the arrest warrant, immediately after Bass was arrested. On Friday Ambrozaitis did release the affidavit for the arrest warrant but it was redacted, meaning the pertinent information was blacked out, so the affidavit was essentially useless.
Mills is clearly angry. On his Facebook page he said: “Prosecutor can’t redact. And she’s not an agent of the court. Oh boy, What the hell? This fight ain’t over yet. Supreme Court Administrator’s Office and Judicial Tenure Commission may want to take a peak at their (Clare County) ways.”
One of the reasons Mills is angry is because he feels Willing and Farrell have mistreated him. Willing, according to Mills, gave him a tongue-lashing and wouldn’t listen to him when he tried to explain the information was public.
Farrell refused to see Mills. Seven hours later he did email Mills. Mills called it a sarcastic response. Farrell also suggested he take the matter up with Ambrozaitis and Sheriff John Wilson.
This type of behavior might work on the average citizen, but when you talk to the press, you gotta have some tact. Mills, as any normal citizen, had every right to ask why the documents were sealed. You as public servants, should have the patience to deal with his questions.
Ironically, Wilson told Mills, he’d gladly release details, including the actual police report that was requested, but he was told by Ambrozaitis to say or release nothing.
So, I ask, what is going on? Ambrozaitis has usually been very forthcoming with documents to us. I simply do not understand why it is so important to keep everything under lock and key with this case. Are we trying to protect Floyd Dennis, or his family, who was a pillar of the community and loved by a lot of people? Do we have an anonymous witness that is providing information that we don’t want to reveal? If so, tell us, and maybe we will understand.
But as it stands now, Mills intends to make a big stink, shedding more negative light on Clare County. He has booked a radio talk show engagement and has informed the Michigan Press Association. I might suspect he will also take it further up the ladder to the Judicial Tenure Commission and the Michigan Supreme Court.
Clare County has one black eye. We don’t need two.
Postscript- Judge Farrell at a hearing ruled on Wednesday that the files could remain sealed. His contention was that neither the prosecution or defense objected to the files being sealed, so therefore they would remain sealed. This is according to Mills who attended the hearing with lawyer Art Weiss. They are conferring with the Michigan Press Association as to their next move.