Sunday, December 18, 2016

New Pressure on the Criminal Justice System to Free Rick Wershe

Rick Wershe’s lawyers have filed a new court motion, in federal court, aimed at forcing consideration of parole for him. Wershe is the longest serving Michigan inmate doing a life sentence for a non-violent drug crime committed when he was a juvenile. The lawyer who filed the motion is the son of a Detroit legal legend.

UPDATE: On Monday, December 19th, the Michigan Parole Board notified Rick Wershe they intend to interview him in February for possible parole. It is the first step in the formal process for granting parole. It comes less than a week after the filing of the motion for habeas corpus described below. For Rick Wershe, it's the best news he's received since his parole hearing in 2003. It is certain to brighten his Christmas.

As Rick Wershe prepares for his 29th year in prison next year, his lawyers are still fighting the fight, battling every way possible to force the criminal justice system to dispense justice in his case. Drug dealers who were ten times bigger on the dope scene have been tried, convicted, imprisoned and paroled in the time Wershe has been behind bars. Cold-blooded hitmen have gone to prison and have been released in the time Wershe has been locked up. Rick Wershe’s real crime was that he was an FBI informant who helped the feds put politically connected dopers and politically connected corrupt cops in prison. There has been a long-running vendetta against Rick Wershe—28 years so far—by some politically powerful people in Detroit and the so-called criminal “justice” system has knuckled under. When a Wayne County Circuit Court judge tried to re-sentence Wershe to time served, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who owes her political career to the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County political machine, fought all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court to keep Wershe in prison.

Several hundred Michigan prison inmates, sentenced as juveniles to life in prison for murder, have been re-sentenced under a Michigan Supreme Court ruling called the Lockridge case. Rick Wershe was never convicted of a violent crime or charged with one. Yet, he remains in prison serving a life term. He was sentenced under a draconian state drug law that was repealed years ago. The fact he remains in prison under a discarded law and has been refused meaningful consideration for parole is cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution because he is being treated differently than everyone else serving life sentences as juvenile offenders in Michigan. Moreover, the Michigan Parole Board has repeatedly refused to consider Rick Wershe for parole and they refuse to give a reason. They don’t have to unless a judge forces them to do it because in Michigan they are accountable to no one and Michigan’s voters haven’t seen fit to demand a change in this enormous power that is subject to abuse.

Enter attorney Paul Louisell who has filed a writ of habeas corpus motion in behalf of Wershe in Detroit federal court. Louisell is a member of the Musilli, Brennan law firm. Ralph Musilli is Rick Wershe’s long serving tenacious lawyer, fighting on multiple issues in multiple courts to try to secure his client’s freedom. He’s been working for years pro bono, a Latin term which means he’s working for free on Wershe's case. So is Paul Louisell. Louisell worked for a time in the appellate section of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. He has experience with appeals matters and this habeas corpus motion falls in that category. His father, the late Joe Louisell, was a true legend in Detroit courts in the 50s and 60s. More on that later.

First, let’s consider what the hell habeas corpus means. It’s another Latin term meaning “you have the body.” In law, it’s used to force authorities to produce a body—in this case Rick Wershe’s body—which they may be holding illegally. In laymen’s terms the habeas corpus motion is intended for force the powers-that-be to explain why they are holding Wershe in the face of what appears to be violations of several of his Constitutional rights.

As they say in those cheesy late-night TV commercials, “But wait! There’s more!”

The habeas corpus motion filing was assigned to U.S. District Judge George Steeh. Amazingly, his court ordered the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to file a legal response. The AG’s office represents the Parole Board in legal matters. This is getting to first base with this motion, something that is very, very difficult these days.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have taken a tough stand on habeas corpus and other defendant/inmate rights. Last year the Michigan Law Journal, a publication of the University of Michigan School of Law, published a piece with a wordy and cumbersome title: The Demise of Habeas Corpus and the Rise of Qualified Immunity: The Court’s Ever Increasing Limitations on the Development and Enforcement of Constitutional Rights and Some Particularly Unfortunate Consequences.

I know. It makes you want to rush to find it on Google and read every word. But the title tells you what you need to know; habeas corpus, a defendant or inmate’s right to challenge illegal or improper incarceration, is under assault by numerous court rulings. As a practical matter, judges are reluctant these days to even consider habeas corpus cases because there is so much case law now stacked against this legal tool. That’s why Judge Steeh’s willingness to even consider Louisell’s motion is noteworthy.

“Wershe is not being treated like other juveniles now being re-sentenced (in Michigan) under Lockridge,” Louisell says. The Lockridge ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court orders that juvenile lifers in murder cases be given a “second look” by the sentencing judge because of the defendant’s age at the time of sentencing. That hasn’t happened in the Wershe case and he’s the ONLY Michigan juvenile lifer who has been denied consideration under the Lockridge ruling.

“If he were sentenced today, he’d probably get five to seven years or at most 15 to 17 years,” Louisell says.

Attorney Paul Louisell. A framed newspaper article about his famous late father is over his shoulder.

In his office, over his shoulder, there is a framed copy of a newspaper article about the late great Joe Louisell, Paul’s father. In a lengthy profile story The Detroit Free Press once called Joe Louisell “Detroit’s Perry Mason,” a lawyer with an astonishing knack for winning seemingly unwinnable cases.

In 1995 the Detroit Legal News honored Joe Louisell posthumously as a “Legal Legend.” Joe Louisell’s father, Medor Louisell, was a prominent trial lawyer in Minnesota and later, in 1908, he was a member of the Michigan Constitutional Convention.

Joe Louisell got legendary Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne out of a drunk driving case by arguing the arresting police officers may have mistaken Layne’s thick, slow Texas drawl for drunkenness. Layne had stopped his car six feet from the curb when the police stopped him and a car load of companions. But Joe Louisell’s novel defense argument about the way the championship football star’s drawl could be mistaken for drunkenness won the day.

The late Joe Louisell, described as Detroit's Perry Mason. (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

Regarded for many years as Detroit’s premier criminal defense attorney, Louisell won acquittals in several seemingly hopeless murder trials.

Joe Louisell also successfully defended some of Detroit’s top Mafia figures of the era. “I’ve never been ashamed of my clients,” Louisell once told reporters. “I’ve always felt I defended causes, not people.”

What would Joe Louisell think of the Rick Wershe case?

“He’d be incensed about the whole parole process,” his son Paul believes. “He’d be right there with Ralph (Musilli) arguing before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that Rick has never been given an opportunity for parole.”

Maybe, just maybe, with Paul Louisell’s motion for a writ of habeas corpus and Ralph Musilli’s civil rights fight for Wershe in the federal courts, Rick Wershe may at long last get justice in 2017.

I work hard to keep the facts straight in the complex and twisted tale of Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe, Jr. But sometimes things are misstated and it’s important to make corrections.

The blog of November 20, 2016 stated in part: “…he embarrassed Coleman Young by having an affair with the mayor’s niece while he was secretly working for the FBI.”

This is incorrect. Rick Wershe had stopped working for the FBI before he began his affair with Cathy Volsan Curry. He did indeed work as a confidential informant for the FBI, he did indeed have an affair with Cathy Volsan Curry, the mayor’s niece, and he embarrassed the mayor by living with her. But his FBI work and his fling with Ms. Volsan-Curry did not intersect.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rick Wershe’s Fate may be determined One Year from Now

One year from now, December, 2017, Richard J. Wershe, Jr., known in the media as White Boy Rick, will learn if his nightmarish life sentence for a non-violent drug conviction handed down when he was a teenager, will come to an end. It may continue. It’s anybody’s guess. Between now and then people who support Wershe may have an opportunity—at last—to express their opinion in a public hearing.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr.’s file in the Michigan Department of Corrections says he’s due for parole consideration in December, 2017. A lot can happen between now and then. Much depends on fairness and integrity within the Michigan Parole Board.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. in court in Detroit in September, 2015. (Photo: David Coates, Detroit News)

On its face, the Michigan parole system is an orderly process. Scratch the veneer of that process and you’ll find politics—and plenty of it.

The Michigan Parole Board, ten ex-prosecutors, sheriffs and career employees of the Michigan Department of Correction appointed by the Governor, by default tilts toward swallowing whole whatever a county prosecutor tells them about a given inmate up for parole. There’s a presumption of truth in whatever a county prosecutor tells the board about whether an inmate should be paroled. Sometimes county prosecutors don’t object to parole for an inmate. In those cases, the granting of parole goes smoothly. But in other cases, if a prosecutor objects, the road to parole can be very rocky indeed.

That’s what happened to Rick Wershe in 2003 when he was eligible for his first parole hearing. The office of then-Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan waged a full-scale effort to sabotage Wershe’s parole. It included a scathing letter from Duggan claiming Wershe was an unredeemable menace to society who should remain locked up for the rest of his life.

Never mind that Wershe got in to the drug underworld after being recruited by federal agents who knew he knew the leaders of a major drug gang. Never mind that he helped the FBI bring down one of Detroit’s most powerful crack cocaine empires. Never mind that he was never convicted of a violent crime or even charged with one. Never mind that he was never charged federally under the so-called “kingpin” drug statute. Never mind that no one was ever charged as a member of Wershe’s mythical drug “gang.”

There are many “never minds” about the Wershe case, but it hasn’t mattered. In 2003 the Michigan Parole Board held a parole hearing for Wershe that resembled a kangaroo court. There were numerous stunning inconsistencies but the Parole Board had no curiosity about any of them. Wershe’s 2003 “hearing” appeared to be all for show. They denied his parole.

Regular readers of Informant America know there appears to be a vendetta by the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County political machine to keep Wershe in prison until he dies for helping the FBI successfully prosecute politically connected corrupt cops and the drug-dealing brother-in-law of the late Mayor Coleman Young. As Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, succinctly puts it, Rick Wershe told on the wrong people and he cost them a lot of money. It is reasonable to wonder if current Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who owes her career to the corrupt pols of Detroit and Wayne County, is continuing the vendetta by fighting aggressively to block Wershe’s release from prison.

Wershe was last up for parole consideration in 2012. In early July of that year he was sent a formal notice that stated he was scheduled for a Parole Board interview on August 20, 2012.

In 2012 the Michigan Parole Board initially indicated on the record that they intended to interview Rick Wershe, Jr. for possible parole.

Later that month, on July 23rd, notice was sent that Wershe’s parole interview was being canceled. The notice stated “The majority of the board has no interest in taking action at this time.

Less than a month later, the Parole Board reversed itself and canceled Wershe's formal interview, thus dashing his hopes for parole for at least five more years.

There was no explanation, no reason given. The Parole Board, which does as it pleases with no oversight, with no accountability, doesn’t have to give a reason. Did someone with political juice within the criminal justice system persuade the board to turn Wershe down again for parole? We have no way of knowing. All we know is they scheduled his next parole interview for December, 2017.

So sometime next year, Wershe’s 29th in prison, in a closed-to-the-public session, the Parole Board will again decide whether they want to consider Wershe for parole. Five years will have passed since the last time they voted “no interest.” If they vote “no interest” again, that’s that. He will be flopped to serve another five years before the next parole consideration. Attorney Musilli calls it serving a life sentence five years at a time.

If the Parole Board shows some interest next year in considering Wershe for parole, a single parole board member will interview him and share the results of that interview with the rest of the Board. A dossier will be prepared for the full board detailing all of the information about Wershe, good and bad, in the prison system files. Lifer cases must be considered by the full board. A hearing, a public hearing, will be scheduled. By law this requires two public notices be posted. This is a 60 day process. Since Wershe’s file calls for a December, 2017 review, the process will likely begin around June.

During this time, the prosecutor in the county where Wershe was convicted, Wayne County, will have an opportunity to remain silent and let the parole hearing go forward without objection, or notify the Parole Board they intend to object to Wershe’s release.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has withstood mounting criticism from the public and from the media for fighting to keep Wershe in prison. This past August she caused a stir in some media circles by announcing she might re-consider her position on Wershe since he was convicted as a juvenile. Then again, she might not. It was a total non-statement and it appears to have been intended to get the media off her back without doing anything about Wershe’s life sentence. Only Kym Worthy knows what position she will take regarding parole for Rick Wershe next year.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy-Will she continue the political vendetta against Rick Wershe in 2017? (Photo: WXYZ-TV)

The Michigan Attorney General gets a say in the matter, too. Like the Wayne County Prosecutor, the Michigan AG has opposed Wershe’s parole, citing the same erroneous and unsupportable information that sank his chances in 2003.

One more official gets half of a say, too. That’s Wayne County Circuit Court judge Dana Hathaway. She’s the judge who took over his case file when his original trial judge retired. Under the rules, she can object to Wershe’s parole but she can’t recommend parole. In other words, she only has input if she objects, which is not likely. Last year Judge Hathaway made it clear in an opinion and ruling that she thinks Wershe’s sentence ought to be reduced to time served. Kym Worthy fought that all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Judge Hathaway’s opinion won’t be part of the Parole Board’s deliberation process.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway. She thinks Rick Wershe should be re-sentenced to time served and released from prison. (Photo: Deadline Detroit)

A key element for the Parole Board is a review of the positives; why Rick Wershe should be released on parole. They want to know if he is a good “risk” to be allowed to return to the community. This is where his supporters can make a difference. At the appropriate time a campaign for letters of support will be in order. The goal will be to blitz the Parole Board with letters of support for Rick Wershe. 

He had a few letters of support at the 2003 parole hearing. A few hundred or maybe even a few thousand letters of support in 2017 would have an impact. 

If he gets a public hearing, possibly next fall, it would be an opportunity for all of those who say they believe Wershe should be set free to show up en masse and show the Parole Board that a substantial segment of the community believes this man has done enough time, that he should be paroled. 

Ideally, for Rick's sake, it should be standing room only. To borrow a current buzz word in politics, the optics would be powerful.