Preliminary proceedings begin for Buchanan man charged with 14 counts of sex crimes
Published 6:04 pm Monday, September 18, 2023
NILES — Four women testified Monday that Buchanan attorney Lanny Fisher forced them to have sexual relations with them in exchange for his representation. Fisher was in Berrien County Trial Court in Niles Monday for the first day of his preliminary hearing.
The case is being heard by Van Buren County District Judge Michael McKay after all Berrien County judges recused themselves. Fisher faces 14 criminal sexual conduct and prostitution related charges. The incidents occurred over 12 years, dating back to 2010.
Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli is trying the case for the people and called four women to testify Monday. He is expected to call one or more additional witnesses when the preliminary hearing resumes on a yet to be scheduled date.
The first two women to testify are currently in prison. The first woman said she knew Fisher from when he represented her in a criminal case. “He said he was the best attorney, was a big wig, took on the huge cases and always won,” she said. “He said he had an ‘in’ with several prosecutors and judges.”
She said she had sex with Fisher both at his office in Buchanan and at a hotel in Benton Harbor after he said “he could take of the bill if I took care of him.” She said the first time it happened, he took her phone away from her and put it in another room. “I asked him to stop and he didn’t stop,” she said.
The second woman is also in prison. She said she first met Fisher through a girl she knew in 2009 and 2010. He said he would pay her to paint his house but in reality he was paying her to have sex with him, she said. He then represented her in a criminal case where she pleaded guilty and is now in prison.
She said she had sex with Fisher at his home the first time she met him when she was 14. She continued to have sex with him for two years until the time when she was sentenced to prison. “He forced me to have sex with him,” she said. “I was scared, he was an attorney. He’d say ‘I’m a lawyer’ and said he knew the law.”
The other two women testifying Monday also went to Fisher to represent them in criminal cases, one was charged with armed robbery while the other was facing drunk driving charges.
The first of the two women is now 21 and first met Fisher when he came to see her when she was in the Berrien County Jail in February 2022. She then hired him to represent her and met with him at his Buchanan office.
“He talked about how he was a good attorney and said he had been on TV and was real well-known,” she said. “He said he had friends all over Berrien County, in the courts and the police departments. I asked him if I was going to jail and he said he couldn’t say for sure.”
“He said if I wanted to stay out of jail, I would have to hear him out on what he wanted to do,” she added. “I was scared, I said I wanted to leave. He took my phone and I asked him if I could please leave and talk to him another time. He told me to get on his couch. I was scared so I did it. I thought if I didn’t do what he wanted, I would go to jail.”
The other woman, the fourth to testify Monday, said her husband hired Fisher after she spent a night in jail for drunk driving in 2020. She said she first met with Fisher at his office with her husband and son but met with Fisher alone after that because the conversation about jail upset her son.
“At the first meeting, he looked at me and said ‘you’re 40, you don’t look 40’,” she said. “It made me uncomfortable but I didn’t say anything … He made comments again the next time and it made me uncomfortable. He kissed me and I was shocked. I got up to leave and he said I would want to sit back down.”
She said she was scared to say no to him. “He said that he was friendly with the people at the courthouse, that he had game nights with other lawyers, that he was a very good lawyer and had been on Nancy Grace … He said he knows all the police and judges as well as criminals who owe him favors.”
Fisher’s attorneys, Josh Blanchard and Melissa Freeman of the Greenville-based Blanchard Law firm, questioned the four women on their statements and tried to show inconsistencies in what they said in court Monday as well as to police investigators in the past. They tried to show that the sex was consensual and that the women could have left.
Fisher, 54, of Woodland in Buchanan, was arraigned in April when he pleaded not guilty in April to nine counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and four counts of misdemeanor prostitution related offenses.
The nine third-degree CSC counts include seven involving women he allegedly forced to have sex with him at his office and his home and two counts involving a female age 13 to 15. The maximum penalty for those offenses is 15 years in prison.
The one fourth-degree CSC count involved sexual contact with a woman and is a high court misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
The four remaining misdemeanor counts allege that he did “being a male person, engage or offer to engage the services of another, not his or her spouse, for the purpose of prostitution, lewdness or assignation.” Those counts carry a maximum penalty of 93 days in jail.