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Bridge Michigan
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Sheriff Dar Leaf loses legal fight over Michigan 2020 election probe

 Dar Leaf speaking at a rally
Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf has spent months investigating the 2020 election, and now is one of the subjects of a separate criminal probe alleging election tampering. (Photo courtesy of Chris duMond)
  • Judge dismisses Sheriff Dar Leaf’s claims against Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson 
  • Leaf alleged state interfered in his 2020 election investigation
  • But Leaf is a suspect in state’s vote machine tampering probe

LANSING — A Michigan sheriff suspected of wrongdoing in a vote tabulator tampering case has lost a major fight in his lawsuit alleging state authorities meddled in his own ongoing probe of the 2020 presidential election. 

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro on Monday dismissed Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf's claims against Michigan State Police and Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats.

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Leaf's attorney vowed to continue the litigation, however, arguing the case is still pending against individual troopers.

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Leaf is among a handful of constitutional sheriffs in Michigan who believe they are the highest level of government authority and can disregard laws they deem unconstitutional. 

He filed suit in June, urging the court to stop the state from "usurping and interfering" with his investigation into the 2020 election. At the time, he called state police an "unaccountable strong arm" of Nessel, who is up for re-election in November.

But Leaf never responded to summary motions for disposition filed this month by state attorneys, who had chided his "conspiracy-fueled" investigation as they sought to dismiss the case over procedural errors. 

Because Leaf did not respond in the time required by the court, "the motions for summary dispositions are granted and plaintiffs’ claims against these defendants are dismissed with prejudice," Shapiro wrote in his one-page order. 

Shapiro noted the decision is “not a final order,” however, and may not completely end the case.

Stefanie Lambert, Leaf’s attorney, said the Republican sheriff plans to continue the litigation and should be able to do so because Shapiro's dismissal did not name individual Michigan State Police troopers, only the department. The initial complaint also listed "other government official defendants" to be identified at a later time.

Leaf will file an amended complaint “in light of newly obtained evidence,” Lambert told Bridge Michigan by text message.

Leaf, who has echoed former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims the 2020 election was rigged, had alleged state police and other authorities were trying to "intimidate" a deputy he assigned to investigate the 2020 election won by Democratic President Joe Biden. 

But state police were actually investigating an alleged vote tabulator tampering scheme that Leaf is suspected of participating in. Nessel's office revealed Aug. 7 that Leaf and Lambert are among nine people who may have committed crimes. 

That state investigation expanded into Barry County in late April, when police raided Irving Township Hall and seized a voting tabulator after an "unpermitted individual" was reportedly allowed to access the machine.

Nessel is asking a special prosecutor to review the tabulator tampering case and decide whether charges are warranted because she has an obvious conflict of interest: One of the others named in the case is Matthew DePerno, the Republican nominee for attorney general, who she’ll face in the November general election. 

In an Aug. 11 filing, attorneys for Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson asked Shapiro to dismiss Leaf's lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims, arguing the sheriff had failed to follow basic court rules by signing or properly verifying his initial complaint. 

A handwritten "affidavit" that Leaf submitted with the complaint was not notarized, and named defendants in the suit were never "served" notice of the suit, attorneys for state police noted in their own motion for dismissal.

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As Bridge first reported last year, Leaf had considered seizing voting machines following the 2020 election, a plan an attorney working for him discussed with key Trump allies, including attorney Sidney Powell and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Leaf’s lengthy investigation has frustrated local officials in Barry County, a largely rural area that Trump dominated in 2020. Election clerks, including Republicans, contend there were no problems with local elections but have nonetheless been grilled by a private investigator enlisted by Leaf. 

County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor Pratt last month denied Leaf's request to sign off on search warrants for his 2020 election probe because she did not think the "evidence" he had presented to her amounted to "probable cause."

"There just wasn't anything in there that amounted to any fraud that I could see," Pratt told Bridge in late July. 

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