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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Citing likely suit, Lee Chatfield accuser demands church, school save info

lee chatfield
Lee Chatfield, Michigan’s former House speaker, has denied accusations that he sexually assaulted his now-sister-in-law when she was a teen student at the Christian school where he taught. (Bridge file photo)

Jan. 21: Michigan school run by Lee Chatfield’s family didn’t report past abuse claim

Lawyers for the woman who has accused former House Speaker Lee Chatfield of sexually assaulting her as a teenage student at the Christian school where he taught are demanding that school and church officials preserve documents in anticipation of legal action.

In a letter mailed to church and school officials Tuesday, attorney Alexander Rusek of the Okemos law firm White Law PLLC warned it is “reasonably foreseeable” that a lawsuit, arbitration or mediation, or other legal action will be filed against Chatfield or the school and affiliated church run by his father, Rusty Chatfield, or “others associated with” any of those entities.

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The letter follows allegations by Lee Chatfield’s now sister-in-law that he groomed and then sexually assaulted her beginning when she was a teenage student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy, the Burt Lake school run by Rusty Chatfield in affiliation with his church, Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church. 

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Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, told Bridge Michigan the assaults began when she was 15 or 16 and continued into 2021, well after Lee and Rusty Chatfield pressured her to marry Lee’s younger brother at age 19.

Through his attorney, Mary Chartier, Lee Chatfield has denied sexually assaulting Rebekah Chatfield but admitted to a “years-long” consensual sexual relationship with her when they were both adults, along with multiple other extramarital affairs.

Jamie White, another White Law attorney representing Rebekah Chatfield, told Bridge the letter is “a standard letter when we want parties to be on notice that records should be preserved.”

Rusty Chatfield told Bridge Wednesday that he has not yet received the letter, and has no comment on it.

In an email to Bridge, Chartier said her firm doesn’t represent the church and school, and reiterated Lee Chatfield's position that he did not commit abuse.

“It doesn’t matter that preservation letters were sent out,” she said. “Mr. Chatfield did not assault this woman.”

The letter, addressed to the church, school, and Rusty Chatfield, demands preservation of all electronically stored information relevant to any possible sexual-assault legal claims – from emails to texts, social media posts to files stored on external hard drives. It notes that failing to comply could result in legal sanctions.

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It’s the second known so-called “litigation hold” to emerge from the sexual assault allegations first publicly revealed last week. Michigan House leaders have also directed members and staff to preserve records related to Chatfield’s conduct while in office or his use of government resources. Chatfield left office last year due to term limits. 

Rusek copied lawyers for the House and Senate on Tuesday’s letter, along with multiple church officials.

“You should anticipate that much of the information subject to disclosure or responsive to discovery in this case is stored on your current and former computer systems and other media and devices (including personal digital assistants, voice-messaging systems, online repositories and cell phones),” Rusek wrote.

Rusek also directed the church and school to take “affirmative steps” to prevent anyone from attempting to hide or destroy records. 

The letter gives church officials until Jan. 21 to respond, and directs them to use “the broadest possible definition” of relevant documents.

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