Judge Sara Spencer-Noggle would have preferred to send Brian Kolodziej, a former state prosecutor who falsified a police report and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a rape victim in a case he was prosecuting, to jail.
But at Kolodziej’s sentencing hearing Friday, the Isabella County Circuit Court judge said she could only give Kolodziej two years of probation, community service, and mandatory mental health treatment.
Judge Spencer-Noggle told the court that legislative sentencing guidelines meant she “cannot, as a matter of law, impose a jail sentence,” even though she believed it would be an “appropriate sanction” in this “highly disturbing case.”
Until 2019, Kolodziej was an Assistant Attorney General with the state AG’s office. A young, up-and-coming prosecutor handling sexual assault cold cases, Kolodziej had been heralded for successfully prosecuting a former Central Michigan University student body president, Ian Elliott, for assaulting a fellow student, Rachel Wilson, in 2016. Under Kolodziej’s handling of the case, a second victim had also come forward against Elliott, who pleaded no contest to one charge of criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Then, just months after Elliott’s sentencing, Wilson confided in a counselor at CMU that she’d become involved with Kolodziej while he was handling her case, and that he’d been making violent threats. The Michigan State Police, and then the AG’s office, were notified. Kolodziej resigned, a criminal investigation was opened, and he was charged with two felony counts of misconduct in office.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Attorney General’s office allowed Ian Elliott to get a reduced sentence to a lesser charge - in part because the investigation showed Kolodziej had manipualted police reports to withhold exculpatory evidence.
Kolodziej’s apology, and Wilson’s statement to the court
Last month, Kolodziej reached a plea deal: He’d agree to surrender his law license for five years and plead no contest to two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty, in exchance for the felony charges being dropped.
At his sentencing hearing Friday, Kolodziej appeared via zoom. His face was impassive as he sat next to his attorney, who told the judge Kolodziej had made a “grievous error in judgement,” but was “human,” has no criminal record, and had already suffered “tons of personal embarrassment” as well as the loss of his legal license, attorney Camilla Barkovic said.
Kolodziej himself issued an apology to the “people of the state of Michigan,” and said that he’d already apologized to Wilson “for hours” two years ago. But he issued a public apology to Wilson in court, as was required under the terms of his plea deal.
“When you expressed interest in me, I should have declined,” Kolodziej said in his apology. But he was “so proud of you and your strength” during the case, he said, and it “felt like we’d been through a war together.”
Wilson, for her part, submitted a lengthy and emotional statement to the court, which was read aloud by Assistant Kent County Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Bartlett.
“I fought so hard for years to put my rapist where he belonged [in jail,]” Wilson’s statement said. The “sickest part of all of this is, you knew how much I’d already been through. You knew...how isolated and vulnerable I was. How it would never be as simple as being able to cut things off, while the case was ongoing and my last opportunity for justice was in your hands.”
Wilson said when their relationship began, Kolodziej had assured her it wasn’t unethical, because she wasn’t his client - he represented the state. And when she tried to end the relationship, Kolodziej threatened suicide.
“When I tried to break free of you, you threatened to tell my family and friends as a ploy to get me to contact you...At one point, when I said I couldn’t stay on the phone with you any longer, you called my mom,” Wilson said in her statement. Her mom rushed over to Wilsons’ apartment, “letting me know that the prosecution needs me to call him right back.”
Once the case was over, “...you disclosed to me for the first time that Ian’s conviction could be appealed if I told anyone about the relationship.” That’s when Wilson said she realized Kolodziej had known all along that their relationship was “putting the case in jeopardy.”
When their relationship was revealed to the Attorney General’s office, Wilson said Kolodziej attempted to “convince that AG’s office that you were the victim. First, you made an effort [to convince them that] that I pursued you, despite hesitations on your part...When the Kent County prosecutors told me you reported feeling as if you had been raped, I couldn’t believe my own ears.”
“...Because of you, everything I fought for is lost. Because of you, Ian [Elliott] is convicted only of misdemeanors” more fitting for “someone who stole a snickers from a gas station, rather than someone who assaulted someone.”
“Brian no doubt had a relationship with me and altered court documents,” Wilson said in her statement. “But what’s not acknoweldged...is the power differential” between a victim and their prosecutor, she said. “I’m not the only one who lost their chance of seeing justice: Landrea Blackmore [the second victim who came forward against Elliott] selflessly agreed to a dismissal of all charges brought [on her behalf]” in order for Elliott to take the initial plea deal, Wilson said. “Brian hurt so many people other than just myself. And I asked that all of this be considered here today.”
Landrea Blackmore did not respond to a request for comment. Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Wilson declined to make any additional comment on the record beyond her statement to the court.
No jail time
In issuing her sentence, Judge Spencer-Noggle said Kolodziej’s actions demonstrated a “sustained, systematic, manipulative attempt to shape the criminal justice system to fulfill his desires.”
The “sum of his behavior increased the likelihood that the public will lose faith in the criminal justice system” and threatened to deprive Elliott of his “constitutional right to a fair trial.”
“To Ms. Wilson, Mr. Kolodziej was a face of the criminal justice system. But Mr. Kolodziej used his position to further victimize Ms. Wilson. She is not a named victim, but she was harmed, and deserves to be acknowledged. To Ms. Wilson: I’m sorry this happened to you. Thank you for taking the time to provide a statement to the court. I promise this court heard you.”
But Judge Spencer-Noggle said the charges Kolodziej had pleaded no contest to came with a legislative presumption of no jail time, except in circumstances involving physical violence. But the judge told Kolodziej she would “hold a whole bunch of jail time over your head” if he violated the terms of his probation.
The prosecuting attorney, Elizabeth Bartlett, later said she was disappointed.
“We’re disappointed that while the court admonished his egregious conduct, yet couldn’t find reasonable grounds to depart from the rebuttable presumption,” Bartlett said via email Friday. “We fear it sets a terrible precedent in not holding someone accountable for having the relationship that he had and intentionally manipulating investigative reports pertaining to a rape case.”