Ex-Flint mayor sues city over $4.5M judgment

Ex-Flint Mayor Don Williamson is suing over a demand that he pay $4.5 million awarded to police officers who claimed race was a factor in promotions to a special unit in 2006.

The Flint Journal/Mlive reported that a status conference is set for Oct. 15 in U.S. District Court for the lawsuit, which also demands back wages.

The city said the lawsuit is without merit and has asked that the case be dismissed.

The Citizens Service Bureau was later disbanded, but not before 48 officers sued the city and Williamson in state and federal court. The case went before arbitrators, who ruled in favor of the officers and awarded them $3.8 million. The money owed grew with interest, and Flint wants Williamson to pay.

Williamson resigned in 2009 while facing a recall election.

$3.6 million award in Frankenmuth Wal-Mart deal reversed

A federal jury’s $3.6 million award to a Frankenmuth family that lost out on a deal to sell its land to Wal-Mart has been reversed by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As reported in Lawyers Weekly, the plaintiffs in May 2005 signed an agreement to sell 37 1/2 acres of their land to Wal-Mart for $4 million. But seven months later, the city passed an ordinance restricting the size of buildings inside the zoning area that their land sits on to 65,000 square feet. As a result, Wal-Mart backed out.

The 6th Circuit panel determined that there were problems with the jury verdict form, in that the jury was instructed it could find the city of Frankenmuth liable for the deal falling through under either the no-conceivable-basis or animus theory of liability:

But … only the no-conceivable-basis theory was properly submitted to the jury. Because nothing on the verdict form indicated which theory formed the basis for the jury’s decision, the question is whether we may presume that the jury found for the Loesels[] under the factually sufficient no-conceivable-basis theory or whether we must vacate the verdict and remand for a new trial.

In addition, the panel took issue with the damages awarded:

[It] strikes us as excessive, in large part because the verdict itself renders the zoning ordinance unconstitutional and unenforceable. Had the jury verdict been upheld, the Loesels would have retained their property unencumbered by the zoning ordinance and been awarded $3.6 million, which is 90% of the full purchase price from Wal-Mart. This outcome would have let the Loesels recover twice, an impermissible result. …

So, the panel said that, should the case go back to the trial court, the damages should have a specific formula: the amount the plaintiffs would have received from Wal-Mart had the ordinance never been enacted minus the property’s value unencumbered by the zoning ordinance:

Although the jury was instructed by the district court to “award [the Loesels] such a sum as you find by the preponderance of the evidence will fairly and justly compensate them for actual losses you find they have suffered as a direct result of the defendant’s conduct,” we believe that this instruction was overly vague.

The plaintiffs said the city’s action violated their 14th Amendment equal protection rights by improperly rezoning land they owned (north of the downtown area), and that the city manager conspired to come up with justified ordinance options to prevent Wal-Mart from building a store in the city.

The city, meanwhile, said that its future-land-use master plan for its Commercial Local Planned Unit Development zone never called for large-format retailers to be built at the plaintiffs’ site. Also, because Wal-Mart never asked for injunctive relief or for the ordinance to be struck down upon its passing, the city said the retailer didn’t take the matter seriously enough to fight for it.

Jury: Shirvell must pay $4.5 million for defamation

Former University of Michigan student government president Chris Armstrong prevailed Aug. 16 in his federal defamation suit against former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, as the jury awarded Armstrong $4.5 million in damages.

Armstrong, who was represented by Bloomfield Hills civil attorney Deborah Gordon, claimed Shirvell inflicted intentional emotional harm on his blog in 2010, while Armstrong was in his senior year.

Shirvell attacked Armstrong for his “radical homosexual agenda,” calling Armstrong “Satan’s representative on the student assembly” and a “privileged pervert.” He also accused Armstrong of getting minors to drink alcohol and trying to recruit others to become homosexuals. [For a complete rundown of Shirvell's acts, click here.]

The day before the verdict was reached, the Detroit Free Press reported that “Shirvell questioned himself on the witness stand for more than an hour Wednesday [Aug. 15], trying to convince the jury he was upset by Armstrong’s push for gender-neutral housing at U-M. Shirvell graduated in 2002.

“‘My blog was political speech,’ Shirvell testified. ‘I viewed my blog as a movement to get Mr. Armstrong to resign. I personally felt Mr. Armstrong was too radical for the position.’”

Gordon told The Michigan Daily that she doubts Shirvell’s plans to appeal the verdict will be realized.

“He’s not going to win his appeal. It’s just another waste of time just like this trial was. This should never have occurred, because he just should have retracted these statements a long time” ago, she said.

Berkley police sued for wrongful death; former GM building target of ADA suit

Among recently filed Michigan lawsuits:

• The family of Lisa Kindl has filed a wrongful death suit against the Berkley Police, on allegations that Kindl slipped into convulsions in her cell at the city police lockup and died of alcohol withdrawal.

The Detroit News reports that the 47-year-old, who was known to the court system and police as a “chronic serious alcoholic,” repeatedly asked officers for help during her July 2010 holding.

The suit alleges that 15 officers, including the police chief, may have had similar knowledge of her medical needs, and she was denied proper emergency medical care for hours despite complaints to officers.

The lawsuit was filed July 9 in Oakland County Circuit Court by Southfield attorney Mark Boegehold, and assigned to Judge Daniel O’Brien.

• Richard Bernstein of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm in Farmington Hills is asking that the former General Motors Corp. headquarters be renovated to comply with American with Disabilities Act standards.

According to MLive, his client, Jill Babcock, who works for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, moved into the building in October. She said that, while some adjustments have been to accommodate her wheelchair, such as the addition of a button-operated bathroom stall, not nearly enough has been done for disabled access building-wide.

The suit was filed July 10 at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

• Flint attorney Tom Pabst is contending that Brian Fairchild, former police sergeant for Flushing Township, was fired for retaliatory reasons because of his involvement in a campaign to oust trustees from office.

MLive says that Fairchild claims his rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act were violated, because he actively participating in a recall campaign against trustees Michael Gardner and Bill Noecker, who are named as defendants. The township, its Supervisor Terry Peck, and trustees Scott Minaudo and Mark Purkey also are named.

Peck contends that Fairchild’s termination was for budgetary reasons.

The suit was filed in Genesee County Circuit Court and assigned to Judge Geoffrey Neithercut.

Larry Flynt would be proud

It’s a great day for those who believe in the power of free speech in advertising. In a way, anyway.

The Associated Press reports that federal Judge John Corbett O’Meara ruled Michigan’s restrictions on signs promoting sexually oriented businesses is unconstitutional.

[O’Meara] ruled in favor of the Penthouse Club, a Detroit strip club. He says the new law violates the First Amendment because it bans all images on signs.

The law says signs outside an adult business can only display words, numbers and trademarks. The Penthouse Club has a large sign with a woman in a short skirt and skimpy top.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement of the law, which took effect in March. O’Meara said Tuesday the law illegally singles out sexually oriented businesses only.

To look at the ad in question, click here. You’ll note that the frame — and the size of it — looks like it was taken from the props department of “Caligula,” another Bob Guccione venture.

 

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Ponzi scheme mastermind pleads guilty

The Associated Press reports that an Oakland County man accused of a $200 million investment scam pleaded guilty in federal court April 29.

Edward May, who was charged in 2009, is accused of misleading people into thinking they were putting money into telecommunication deals. The government says it was a massive Ponzi scheme, with money recycled between investors.

The government says losses exceeded $35 million by 2007 when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in with a civil lawsuit.

In March, Michigan Lawyers Weekly reported on Detroit-area stockbroker Frank J. Bluestein — who was accused of advising and selling bogus investments as part of May’s scheme — having an SEC complaint filed against him, asserting he received $3.8 million for steering investments toward May. That litigation is pending.

Federal judge speaks to Wayne grads; Stupak joins D.C. firm

Here’s a roundup of upcoming legal events and people of note:

• The Hon. Avern Cohn of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan will speak at Wayne State University Law School’s annual commencement ceremony.

Cohn also will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the ceremony, which takes place 5 p.m. May 16 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.

“I am deeply honored to join the past recipients of an honorary degree from the Law School, to wit: Eugene Driker, Dennis Archer, Maura D. Corrigan, Marilyn Kelly and Harold Koh,” Cohn said.

Admission to the commencement is by ticket only. For more information, contact the Law School’s Dean of Students Office at (313) 577-3997 or lawdso@wayne.edu.

• Former nine-term Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, who played a lead role in passage of the landmark health care legislation of 2010, has joined Venable LLP as a Legislative and Government Affairs partner in the firm’s Washington office.

Stupak was a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Chairman of its subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

A former police officer and Michigan state trooper, Stupak became one of the leading congressional voices on law enforcement issues: in 1994 he created the first law enforcement caucus in Congress and went on to help write and pass substantial legislation to support law enforcement professionals.

Stupak also is serving as a Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and will be leading a study group on government investigations at the Kennedy School of Government entitled “Investigate or Irritate: Changing Corporate and Government Behavior.”

• A ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Crime Victims Rights Exhibit at the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center in Lansing is this coming Wednesday, April 13, at 3 p.m.

Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, former state legislator Senator Bill Van Regenmorter (author and proponent of Michigan’s Crime Victims Rights Act), and Attorney General Bill Schuette are scheduled to speak.

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan is co-sponsoring the event.

The educational exhibit is a tribute to crime victims and those who advocate for them. It will feature four panels, the exhibit educates the viewer about the act, and its meaning for crime victims, through interactive educational games.

• Know a great young attorney who has made great strides in his or her career? Then the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan wants to know more.

The section is now accepting nominations for the 2011 Regeana Myrick Outstanding Young Lawyer Award.

All nominations must be received by May 6. The recipient of the award will be chosen by the SBM-YLS Outstanding Young Lawyer Award Subcommittee, and will notified by May 13. The award will be presented during the Fourth Annual YLS Summit on Saturday, May 21, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.

In 1997, the Young Lawyers Section renamed its Outstanding Young Lawyer Award in honor of Regeana Myrick, an executive council member of the section who passed away in August of that year.

For more information, contact Brandy Y. Robinson at byrobinson@gmail.com.

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‘Pie’ producers accused of hostile work environment on the set

Just because they’re filming sexually themed humor doesn’t mean they should be partaking in it behind the camera.

That’s apparently the message a movie makeup man’s lawsuit hopes to send.

The Detroit News reports that Robert Maverick is suing the people behind the “American Pie” movies, claiming a “hostile work environment filled with nipple-pinching and sexually explicit comments” while making a comedy in Michigan.

The seven-count suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges Maverick “endured numerous acts of unwelcome physical contact and verbal sexual abuse during the filming of ‘Demoted,’ a 2009 comedy produced by Hollywood heavyweight Warren Zide, a Southfield native and producer of the ‘American Pie’ franchise,” according to the report.

The report added that Lansing attorney Jean Kordenbrock wrote her client suffered “mental and emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, and anxiety.”

(There was no mention as to whether Maverick was pressured to watch any of the straight-to-video “American Pie” movies, which would have been an embarrassing enough act in itself.)

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Federal court seeking to fill two spots

Michigan Public Radio is reporting that Michigan senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have asked Detroit lawyer Eugene Driker to chair a committee to advise them on filling two positions on the federal bench.

U.S. District Court judges Arthur Tarnow and Bernard Friedman are taking senior status next year, which enables them to cut their caseloads. As a result, the Court needs new federal judges.

Applications are due from Levin’s office Jan. 24, according to the story.

$500,000 Lanham Act verdict sent back to trial

Back in May, we reported on a lawsuit where Phoenix-based Global Fine Art Registry (FAR) was awarded $500,000 after Park West Galleries, Inc. was accused of violating the Lanham Act in setting up a Internet smear campaign against FAR (“Don’t click here: Art group wins damages for dealer’s dubious tactics”).

On Aug. 12, Hon. Lawrence P. Zatkoff of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan vacated the jury’s verdict and ordered a new trial. He said that FAR founder Theresa Franks and counsel Donald L. Payton and Jonathan H. Schwartz “engaged in persistent misconduct in front of the jury throughout the trial, and it would be fair to characterize the misconduct as ‘contumacious conduct.’”

For one, Zatkoff wrote, “counsel violated the Court’s in limine ruling regarding other legal disputes involving Plaintiff.”

Then, “Franks’ complaints that Plaintiff’s counsel was taking things ‘out of context’ and giving the jury only ‘bits and pieces’ are indicative of how she repeatedly attempted to prejudice the jury regarding rulings Plaintiff had appropriately obtained from this Court. … [T]here were many other times (both when she was called by Plaintiff and by her own counsel) that Franks’ testimony went far beyond what was appropriate or acceptable.”

And, during defendants’ opening statements, 15 newspapers and television stations that had written articles or aired shows about Plaintiff’s art cruises were mentioned. Because of that, “Plaintiff suffered the stigma in the jury’s eyes each time Plaintiff had to object to such reports during testimony,” and “the reading of the media reports was improper in light of the manner in which the FAR Defendants subsequently attempted to introduce them.”

As well, the court imposed sanctions against counsel for the FAR Defendants. Schwartz was fined $5,000 for asking twice, against the judge’s orders, what a witness would think “if Park West wins this trial, Fine Art Registry is done.” Payton also was reprimanded in the trial, with the judge saying, “I counseled you before about the manner in which you have been handling this case and I am afraid I have to counsel you again. You continue to make improper, inflammatory remarks during the course of this trial.”

The upshot?

“[T]he Court: (1) vacates the jury’s verdict with respect to the nine claims asserted by Plaintiff against the FAR Defendants, (2) vacates the jury’s verdict on the Lanham Act counter-claim filed by FAR against Plaintiff, and (3) orders a new trial on the nine claims asserted by Plaintiff against the FAR Defendants and the Lanham Act counter-claim filed by FAR against Plaintiff.”

Guess this is what they mean when people talk about suffering for your art.

UPDATE: Crain’s Detroit Business reported Sept. 16 that neither Park West nor FAR will appeal the judge’s ruling, and instead will await a new trial, as Zatkoff has ordered.

Park West attorney Rodger Young briefly appealed a portion of Zatkoff’s ruling that had preserved a small portion of the April jury verdict pertaining to Bruce Hochman, owner of California-based The Salvador Dali Art Gallery. But he said he expects to withdraw that appeal, as the dealer has settled with Hochman.

Meanwhile, Payton is still representing several art buyers in a separate lawsuit against Park West filed at Oakland County Circuit Court. It remains pending before Circuit Judge Nanci Grant.

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