Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will enter the final month of his campaign for governor with his office arguing in court that Michiganders whom the state falsely accused of unemployment fraud aren’t entitled to damages.
Last year, the state admitted that, because of a computer error, thousands of people were falsely accused of fraud. In some cases, the state garnished their wages, confiscated their income-tax returns or criminally charged them, and ultimately refunded nearly $21 million. The plaintiffs argue that isn’t enough, as some victims suffered drops in credit scores, bankruptcy, homelessness or divorce as a result of the allegations.
Schuette, a Republican running to replace term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, has fought their class-action demand for compensation, arguing the state had immunity and that the case was ineligible based on the statute of limitations.
In July 2017, Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed the class-action suit, known as Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency, on statute-of-limitations grounds. In April, the state Supreme Court opted to review the case.
On Oct. 10, four weeks before voters decide between Schuette and former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, the court will hear oral arguments.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jennifer Lord, has questioned why Schuette’s office was so aggressive in seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, given the state’s prior admission of guilt. Lord told The Associated Press the state was “targeting a large group of people with the least amount of resources to fight back.”
In one instance Schuette sent three lawyers to court to secure a $158 lien against a woman who had been wrongly accused.
Schuette’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bitely, said last year that Schuette was simply working on behalf of his client, the state agency in charge of unemployment.
“The reason we are pursuing a case for $158 is because the Unemployment Insurance Agency wants to pursue that case,” Bitely told Bridge Magazine, a project of the Center for Michigan. “As long as the client wishes to go forward, we will continue to pursue the case.”
But Wanda Stokes, the director of the Talent Investment Agency, which oversees the Unemployment Insurance Agency, told the Detroit Free Press in January 2017 that it was Schuette’s office leading the charge.
“The Attorney General’s Office is handling those cases,” Stokes said. “I can’t second-guess what our attorneys have decided,” Stokes said. “We’re going to let those cases just play out as they do.”