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Judge denies motion to be removed from Mateen Cleaves sexual assault case

Former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves was in Genesee County Circuit court on Dec.12. During the hearing, Genesee Circuit Judge Celeste D. Bell denied a motion to recuse herself from the case.

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The hearing comes after Cleaves’ attorney, Frank Manley, filed a motion in April to have Bell disqualified from the case. Mateen Cleaves is charged with unlawful imprisonment and criminal sexual conduct following the alleged sexual assault of a woman at the Knights Inn motel in Mundy Township after a charity golf outing on September 15, 2015.

The case was previously dismissed, but it was reinstated in April 2017 following an appeal from prosecutors. Bell, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in February 2018, took the case over after the judge who reinstated the case retired.

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Why does Manley feel that Bell should recuse herself from the case? Well, the issue stems from the fact that Bell worked for Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton. Leyton recused his office from the case due to his family having a relationship with a potential witness.

Manely’s argument is that if Leyton felt it necessary to recuse his entire office, an office that Bell was a member of, from the case then she should recuse herself as well to avoid the appearance of an unfair trial.

Bell wasn’t a member of Leyton’s office Bell until the Genesee County Board of Commissioners merged the corporation counsel with Leyton’s office in May 2015. Leyton recused his office from the Cleaves case in October 2015.

As a result, Wayne County prosecutor Lisa Lindsey argued Bell didn’t have significant involvement in any criminal decisions surrounding the Cleaves’ case and there would be a fair trial.

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In a written opinion, Bell denied the motion stating that while she previously worked in the prosecutor’s office she was not privy to any additional information about the case and her exposure to criminal matters was limited. Adding that her objectivity in the case would remain neutral.

Shortly after the ruling, Manley filed an appeal to be reviewed by Genesee Circuit Chief Judge Richard B. Yuille. A court date for the appeal has not yet been set, but Mateen Cleaves’ case has already taken more than two years to work its way through the legal system.

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