Auditor Punished For Exposing Corruption

Judicial excess prompts protests

Ed Czuprynski (pronounced choo-PRIN-ski) is a real American hero. Like other heroes, he has paid the price.

A lifelong resident of Bay County, Michigan, Czuprynski dropped out of high school, but later got his G.E.D., then went to college at Michigan State, graduating with high honors. He returned to Bay City (county seat of Bay County) and led a drive to reform county government, leading to an elected executive system. In 1979, the public voted him onto the Bay County Board of Auditors, a governmental group designed to act as a watchdog on county government.

Czuprynski found questionable expenditures by county purchasing agent Philip Boes, including sweeheart contracts let without bidding. He tried to have Boes fired and his unlawful contracts rescinded. Czuprynski political foes could not stand up to his bold corruption-fighting actions, so in 1980 they abolished the 76 year old Board of Auditors to weed him out without having to consult the voters. Czuprynski was out of a job, and government returned to "business as usual" in the northern Michigan community.

Czuprynski went to law school and ultimately became a lawyer in 1982, setting up practice in Bay City. In February 1992 he had a series of confrontations with one of his employees, over allegations of cocaine use and recurring absences. She went to the prosecutor and alleged that Czuprynski assaulted her. Unfortunately for Czuprynski, the prosecutor was now George Mullison, one of his old political enemies. In a previous lawsuit against Mullison for defamation, a court noted the "long and bitter feud" between Czuprynski and Mullison. Mullison tried to get a search warrant for Czuprynski's offices and car, but two judges refused.

The enraged employee now accused Czuprynski not only of assault, but also of one of the most heinous crimes known to modern society: smoking marijuana. The only problem is that she had no contact with Czuprynski for over a month, making her "information" stale. However, that problem was solved with ease. Assistant Prosecutor Tim Kelly contacted Greg Tait, a State Police Officer from outside the county to give the appearance of fairness. After one judge refused to grant a warrant, Kelly had Tait go for a warrant to Magistrate Philip Boes, the very man Czuprynski had tried to fire as county purchasing agent in 1979. Boes gleefully signed a warrant against his old enemy. The result: 1.6 grams of marijuana was found. Yet, only the assault charge was brought.

The jury found Czuprynski not guilty of assault. An outside judge who conducted the jury trial on the assault case, Judge Keller of Tawas City, praised the jury for its not guilty verdict. He characterized the employee as "an obvious liar and phony" and criticized prosecutor Mullison for bringing the charges. Keller said

"A good part of the prosecution throughout this entire case has been a matter of throwing a lot of mud to see if something sticks...I have never seen such a baseless prosecution in my life. The witness was obviously a liar."

Two months after the arrest Czuprynski filed a grievance against his accuser and Mullison with the Attorney Grievance Commission when he learned about their original efforts to search his office and car. Five days later, after lobbying by Mullison, the U.S. Government indicted Czuprynski on possession of marijuana charges. That an assistant U.S. Attorney was a former employee of Mullison's did not hurt.

You must understand that the U.S. Government normally gets involved only in the most serious, high-volume drug cases, and leaves smaller cases to the states to prosecute. For example, in Miami, a federal charge will be brought only if there are five tons of marijuana involved. That is 2,937,500 times as much marijuana as was found in Czuprynski's office.

Outside of people being arrested at a border crossing, no person in U.S. history (apart from Czuprynski) has ever been federally prosecuted for such a small amount of marijuana.

The case was brought to U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland, who previously served as president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) while George Mullison served on the PAAM board of directors. Cleland had disqualified himself from a previous Czuprynski lawsuit because of his connection with other Bay County judges. This time, he refused.

Czuprynski filed a motion to suppress the evidence, because the "information" of his accuser was old, in some cases over a year old, and because Philip Boes was not a "neutral and detached magistrate" as required by U.S. Supreme Court rulings. He also moved to dismiss on the ground of vindictive and selective prosecution. Judge Cleland refused to hold a hearing, and denied the motions.

On July 27, 1992, a large group of Czuprynski supporters rallied around the Bay County Courthouse to protest Mullison's actions. Jail guards brought Czuprynski to the roof of the jail so he can hear the chants from his supporters. Mullison was subsequently defeated for reelection, ending 14 years as chief prosecutor.

At the five day trial, the only evidence connecting Czuprynski to the marijuana was the testimony of the former employee and attorney, who acknowledged frequent use of cocaine, LSD, opium and marijuana. The container of marijuana, oddly enough, did not have Czuprynski's fingerprints, but did have the prints of an unidentified person.

Much of the trial was a political prosecution, with Czuprynski's public statements about the drug laws being a major focus of the testimony. It seems Czuprynski felt these laws were immoral, a spur to government corruption, and an easy invitation to abuse of government power. A jury mainly from outside Bay County, unfamiliar with Czuprynski's role in fighting corruption, heard these unorthodox opinions and convicted him of the marijuana possession.

Sentencing guidelines for Czuprynski were 0 to 6 months, so Judge Cleland sentenced him to prison for 14 months, along with a $4500 fine, and 150 hours of community service. Denying appeal bond, he whisked Czuprynski away to federal prison. After 7 1/2 months, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Czuprynski released on bond.

On November 9, 1993, the 3 judge panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed Czuprynski's conviction on the ground of illegal search and ordered him discharged. They said:

The warrant application in this case not only lacks information supporting Ms. X's truthfulness, but also it gives rise to the probability that Ms. X was making these allegations with a bad motive after Czuprynski fired her. Despite the indication that Ms. X might be an unreliable informant, Officer Tait failed to conduct any independent investigation to corroborate Ms. X's allegations. Furthermore, evidence indicates that some "judge-shopping" took place in the overall effort to obtain a search warrant for Czuprynski's home and office. Ultimately, on the advice of the Assistant Prosecutor who had previously been unsuccessful in obtaining a warrant, Tait took the application to a magistrate who had a past conflict with Czuprynski.

The female attorney in question has provided to this site documentary evidence, a printed statement that appears to be a statement of facts supplied by Czuprynski to a tribunal, that she was not fired, but resigned. She also has requested that we delete her name from this article. Because of the age of the incident, and the fact that her name is not critical to the story, we have replaced her actual name with "Ms. X" when quoting from the Sixth Circuit opinions. In the 1995 opinion, which can be found at the Court stated, "It is true Ms. X had been fired." It is unclear to this author why the federal courts did not accept her evidence as being correct. We will accept further submissions from Ms. X and Mr. Czuprynski if they send them.

However, the government was not through. They asked for an en banc hearing, which would be heard by all the judges of the Sixth Circuit. Although these are granted less than 1% of the time, this 1.6 gram marijuana case was important enough to get that treatment. The Court said that whether there was probable cause for the warrant did not matter, because of the "good faith exception" that the U.S. Supreme Court adopted. That rule says essentially that probable cause for a search is no longer needed in the United States, as long as the officer acted "in good faith." Regarding bias of the magistrate, the court stated:

Defendant offered no evidence to show that Magistrate Boes still harbored resentment towards defendant or that Magistrate Boes was unable to review the information before him in an objective manner...We agree with the District Court that the evidence of the thirteen-year old dispute is too remote to demonstrate partiality on the part of Magistrate Boes.
In contrast, the dissent found the conviction to be improper:

We cannot find either probable cause from which to issue a warrant or an objectively reasonable reliance on the part of the executing police officers. We believe that the warrant was facially deficient because it failed to establish any basis for the magistrate to conclude either that Ms. X was a reliable informant in general or that her allegations in this particular case were credible. We cannot find that the wholly uncorroborated allegations of a disgruntled former employee, who had been recently fired, and who was involved in a separate dispute over that discharge, even remotely support a determination of probable cause. Under the circumstances of this case, the magistrate could not constitutionally issue a warrant without information by which to assess Ms. X's veracity. Thus, the warrant issued was facially lacking in indicia of probable cause.

A further problem with the warrant application is that it was based on stale information. Aside from the affidavit of Ms. X, whose credibility is questionable given her motive to make the affidavit, the only other information presented to the magistrate was the results of searches conducted nine and eighteen years earlier.

...We do not believe that the execution of a warrant can be in "complete good faith," Leon, 468 U.S. at 919, unless some information provides credibility to the informant's allegations. Without even any attempt to verify the information in Ms. X's affidavit, we cannot agree that Tait's actions fall within the good-faith exception of Leon.

The conviction was reinstated, but sent back for consideration of the other issues in the case. It was later reversed again on other grounds.

After a one year suspension, Czuprynski's law license was restored, but his practice was destroyed. He is slowly building up his practice again. He now can be reached at 311 Center Avenue, Suite 410, Bay City, Michigan, 48708, phone (517) 894-1155.

In the meantime, we taxpayers are half a million dollars poorer, because of the Czuprynski prosecution.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that the drug laws are immoral, a spur to government corruption, and an easy invitation to abuse of government power. They give government the power to excuse cocaine and LSD use by a favored individual, while prosecuting to the limit the use of marijuana by a political enemy. Framing of the innocent is commonplace, as in this case where the person whose fingerprints were on the marijuana container was never prosecuted. The person who planted the marijuana goes free, while the victim goes to prison. As a county auditor and later an attorney, Czuprynski was successful and courageous. Although marijuana use qualifies Czuprynski to serve on the United States Supreme Court (Justice Clarence Thomas), and as President of the United States (President Bill Clinton), it apparently does not qualify him to battle corruption in a small city in northern Michigan.

What happens to others who use marijuana?
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