The Drudge Report headline blared, “Michigan Law: Adultery could lead to life in prison!” Fearing that Bill Clinton might be eligible for the death penalty — he’s been on our mind, since we rented Primary Colors yesterday — we clicked through to the underlying article, from the Detroit Free Press.
In a ruling sure to make philandering spouses squirm, Michigan’s second-highest court says that anyone involved in an extramarital fling can be prosecuted for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
“We cannot help but question whether the Legislature actually intended the result we reach here today,” Judge William Murphy wrote in November for a unanimous Court of Appeals panel, “but we are curtailed by the language of the statute from reaching any other conclusion.”
And then the Free Press got catty:
No one expects prosecutors to declare open season on cheating spouses. The ruling is especially awkward for Attorney General Mike Cox…. In November 2005, Cox confessed to an adulterous relationship.
The AG’s office didn’t take kindly to the snark:
Cox’s spokesman, Rusty Hills, bristled at the suggestion that Cox or anyone else in his circumstances could face prosecution.
“To even ask about this borders on the nutty,” Hills told me in a phone interview Saturday. “Nobody connects the attorney general with this — N-O-B-O-D-Y — and anybody who thinks otherwise is hallucinogenic.”
Hills said Sunday that Cox did not want to comment.
Finally, this struck us as strange. When was the last time you heard of a sitting judge discussing an appellate panel’s deliberations with a news outlet, concerning a case that’s still pending in the courts? (The defendant is seeking leave to appeal from the Michigan Supreme Court.)
Chief Court of Appeals Judge William Whitbeck, who signed the opinion along with [Judge William] Murphy and Judge Michael Smolenski, said that Cox’s confessed adultery never came up during their discussions of the case.
“I never thought of it, and I’m confident that it was not something Judge Murphy or Judge Smolenski had in mind,” Whitbeck told me Friday.
But he chuckled uncomfortably when I asked if the hypothetical described in Murphy’s opinion couldn’t be cited as justification for bringing first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges against the attorney general.
“Well, yeah,” he said.