Berrien County man fined for recall petition violation

Published 10:34 am Friday, December 4, 2015

A Benton Township man was ordered to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and costs for improperly circulating petitions during a recall effort of two Benton Township officials, according to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.

Berrien County Judge Donna Howard sentenced Willie Dortch, 72, to pay $485 in fines and court costs Thursday in Berrien County Court in St. Joseph. He pleaded guilty earlier Thursday to one count of election law/false statement by a circulator — a 90-day misdemeanor.

The prosecutor’s office said Dortch was the sponsor of two recall petitions submitted for language approval on May 7, 2015, against Benton Charter Township Clerk Carolyn Phillips and Treasurer Debbie Boothby.

The language for both petitions approved on May 18, 2015, stated the purpose for the recall was “for voting yes on Feb. 11, 2015, to appoint Kevin White supervisor.”

Dortch presented the petitions to the Berrien County clerk’s office on July 17, 2015, and on Aug. 21, 2015, the clerk determined the submitted signatures were of an insufficient number to order a recall election.

Irregularities discovered during the counting process prompted an investigation by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, which submitted its completed investigation, resulting in the charges against Dortsch.

The prosecutor’s office alleged that Dortsch did not witness each person signing the petition — a violation of the laws regarding the circulation of recall petitions.