Court examines one of Granholm's last acts

LANSING (AP) -- A decision to grant but then scratch a parole opportunity for a prisoner hit the docket of the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices sparred with lawyers in an unprecedented case about a governor's constitutional power.

Nearly three years after leaving office, some of the final acts of Gov. Jennifer Granholm are at the center of a dispute over whether an inmate will get a shot at freedom after nearly 25 years in prison.

Granholm commuted Matthew Makowski's 1989 no-parole sentence for murder and filed the document days before her term expired in 2010. But she then announced a change of heart after taking heat from the victim's family. Her staff retrieved the records, which bore her signature and a state seal, from the secretary of state's office and had them destroyed.

The question for the Supreme Court: Can a governor do that?

Makowski's attorney, University of Michigan Law School Professor Paul Reingold, said the commutation should have been considered final once the paperwork was filed. It would not have guaranteed the prisoner's release but would have started the parole process.

"When it got to the department, they viewed it as a done deal," Reingold said of the Corrections Department.

But Assistant Attorney General A. Peter Govorchin urged the Supreme Court to follow two lower courts, which found that a governor's authority to commute sentences is in the constitution and can't be upset by the judiciary.

"This has never occurred before and probably never will happen again," Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said. "Why the heck should we get into this?"

Justices Mary Beth Kelly and David Viviano suggested they could be on Makowski's side. Viviano questioned how the governor's staff could demand the secretary of state's office return the document.

Viviano said he'd probably "be escorted from the premises" if he demanded his driving record from the same office.

Kelly challenged Govorchin's use of the word "confusing" and said Granholm's initial decision in favor of commuting Makowski's sentence has to have some meaning.

"I don't think the question is confusing. Maybe it's confusing to you. ... Your argument is our governor can take action under our constitution and that action have no effect," Kelly said. "I don't think that is correct."

Makowski, now 46, was convicted of first-degree murder for arranging the robbery of a Dearborn health club co-worker in 1988. Makowski didn't know the robbers would be armed and wasn't present when Pietro "Pete" Puma was fatally stabbed.

Published: Fri, Dec 13, 2013

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