Former judge’s comments prompt AG to request Wadel be dismissed from Baby Kate case.

October 5, 2016
Michigan First Attorney General William Rollstin testifying in front of Judge Peter Wadel.

Michigan First Attorney General William Rollstin testifying in front of Judge Peter Wadel.

Former judge’s comments prompt AG to request Wadel be dismissed from Baby Kate case. 


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — The Michigan Attorney General’s office, which is prosecuting the murder case against Sean Michael Phillips in Mason County’s 51st Circuit Court, has asked that Judge Peter Wadel step down from the case.

On Wednesday afternoon, Michigan First Attorney General William Rollstin, the state’s second highest ranking attorney, appeared in front of Judge Wadel stating that the comments of a retired judge made last week in the Mason County Courthouse, have given the appearance of impropriety, which is justification for the judge to step down.

Judge Terrance Thomas. File photo.

Judge Terrance Thomas. File photo.

Sean Phillips is on trial for the murder of his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine “Baby Kate” Phillips in June 2011.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, the second day of deliberations in the trial, Judge Terrance Thomas, retired 27th Circuit Court judge (which covers Oceana and Newaygo counties), came into the courtroom during a lunch break. At that time, court reporter Karla McLouth, was seated at her station and prosecutor Donna Pendergast, of the Michigan Attorney General’s office, was seated at the prosecution table.

Judge Thomas walked into the courtroom, approached McLouth stated: “I need to see Pete”, referring to Judge Wadel. According to Rollstin, Thomas then turned to Pendergast and stated, “You’d be hard pressed to pull this one out of the bag.”

Rollstin said Judge Thomas and Pendergast had never met before.

From there, according to Rollstin, Thomas met in chambers with Judge Wadel. He then later came out into the courtroom which was then occupied by two of the members of the defense team, not lead attorney David Glancy, and Mason County Sheriff Det. Michael Kenney.

“Detective Kenney hears retired Judge Thomas say to the members of the defense team, ‘I just had a couple of minutes with Pete and he sees it the same way I do.’”

Rollstin said Thomas has been made comments in the past that he does not have respect for the attorney general’s office.

Thomas was later interviewed by Det. Kenney and Ludington Police Officer J.B. Wells in the commissioners’ chambers. Rollstin and Glancy both read segments of the 35-page transcript of the interview.

Glancy said the whole argument is based on the comments and opinions of a retired judge and that the same conversation could have taken place at a local restaurant and would not have been considered inappropriate.

“All we have is speculation as to why Judge Thomas was here,” Glancy said. “They (the attorney general’s office) is trying to say that (Judge Thomas) intentionally came up here to interject himself into the case. We don’t have any evidence of that.”

Judge Wadel is the 79th District Court judge and the chief judge in Mason County. The case is not being tried by 51st Circuit Court Judge Susan Sniegowski because of a conflict of interest in the case, which is the same reason why Mason County Probate Court Judge Jeffrey Nellis is also not overseeing the case.

During Phillips’ probable cause hearing for the murder charges, Wadel dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence to try it. Judge Richard Cooper, who was then the 51st Circuit Court judge, overturned Wadel’s ruling. The defense’s appeals were also overturned.

Phillips is currently serving a 10 to 15 year sentence for unlawful imprisonment (kidnapping) of Katherine, who has not been seen since June 29, 2011.

Wadel is currently reviewing the attorneys’ arguments.

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