An email sent to a private citizen from the public account of the Grand Rapids city attorney referred to a developmentally disabled minor who was the victim of an alleged rape as a “crack and heroin whore.” The email was referencing a lawsuit filed by the girl’s parents against the city.

City Attorney Catherine Mish wrote about the girl, “She wandered the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, acting as a prostitute in exchange for heroin, cocaine, alcohol and so forth. … The police finally found her after many days of her escapades in trading sex for drugs.”

Mish wrote those words on March 5, 2015, in an email that comprised just one portion of an attack by her and the city against a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit think tank called the Acton Institute. At the time, one of the girl’s parents was employed by the institute, which was involved in a separate legal dispute with the city.

In March of this year, Acton prevailed in a lawsuit against the city, whose officials had denied the organization a property tax exemption authorized by a local ordinance for charitable organizations.

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The denial of the tax exemption raised concerns that Grand Rapids officials were engaging in viewpoint discrimination on the basis of an ideologically based animus against the organization. Acton is a think tank founded and run by a Catholic priest, Rev. Robert Sirico. It describes itself as "dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes."

Those concerns appear to be confirmed by copies of emails sent by Mish to members of the media, other staffers and in one case, a private citizen. The emails were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted to the city by Michigan Capitol Confidential.

In one email, which referenced the child of an Acton employee, Mish twice called the alleged rape victim a “whore,” and implied that the alleged sexual assault was the fault of poor upbringing by her parents. Mish wrote:

“The young woman did not run away from home to become a crack and heroin whore because of anything by the City of Grand Rapids or the GRPD (police). We did not raise her and did not influence her life choices in this regard. The hypocrisy of the Acton Institute and its employees is simply amazing. Beware that you are dealing with hypocrites, sir.”

The girl's parents had filed a lawsuit against the city that was unrelated to Acton's tax dispute. Mish referenced this separate lawsuit, and the alleged sexual assault, to attack the institute.

The communication from Mish was apparently responding to an email sent by the private citizen to the city about an upcoming Acton Institute event. The mother of the developmentally disabled teen was part of that event. This is what triggered Mish’s March 5 email response.

To protect the identity of a minor who was the victim of an alleged sexual assault, Michigan Capitol Confidential is not revealing the name of the former Acton employee. The email written by Mish is also not being released because it gives identifying details about the court case involving the minor.

The former Acton employee told Michigan Capitol Confidential that her daughter is developmentally disabled and said Mish’s email was “wildly inaccurate.”

According to a city press release, Mish resigned from her position as city attorney in February of this year to take a position at the Dickinson Wright law firm.

Mish didn’t return an email seeking comment sent to her law firm. Her email stated that she started at her new job on April 11.

Steve Guitar, the city of Grand Rapids spokesman, said the city would not be releasing a statement.

Kenneth Mogill, the chair of the Standing Committee on Professional Ethics for the State Bar of Michigan, did not return an email seeking comment.


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