Southgate settles two lawsuits against court, judge

The City of Southgate settled a pair of employment lawsuits filed by former 28th District Court employees against the city alleging violations by Judge James Kandrevas.

One of the plaintiffs, former court administrator Lori Shemka, filed a whistleblower action alleging, among other things, comingling of funds and fraudulent representations in applying for federal stimulus money. She also alleged Judge James Kandrevas was using the court and court employees to collect donations for his charity, Achievers Club. [via The News Herald].

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed Aug. 11 in Wayne County Circuit Court by Lori Shemka, a former court administrator. In it, she alleged wrongful discharge, violation of the state Whistleblowers’ Protection Act and First Amendment violations.

Shemka, an attorney, worked at the court for about five months before she was fired.

She was hired Jan. 2 as court administrator, was appointed as a magistrate Feb. 4 and was fired May 15, but paid through June 1.

Shemka alleged in the lawsuit that she was fired for pointing out numerous improper and unethical financial practices at the court.

A separate work program bank account was set up without approval from the city, which is the court’s funding unit, and the account contained about $200,000.

Another allegation was that there was fraudulent representation by the court to the state and federal governments in a drug court grant application seeking funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

According to the story, Shemka’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, said Kandrevas asserted his Fifth Amendment rights 222 times during his deposition.

During Kandrevas’ deposition for the lawsuit, Gordon said she was shocked by Kandrevas’ “less than forthcoming” manner.

She said he invoked the Fifth Amendment provision against self-incrimination many times during the three-day questioning period, or said he didn’t remember when asked a question.

“When he took the Fifth Amendment 222 times, it was just ‘wow,’” Gordon said.
“I was really surprised by how unable he was to remember key facts and tried to distance himself from having knowledge or a role.

“I was shocked by how often he told me he had a bad memory; I get that from a lot of other people, but I don’t expect that from a judge.

In the other case, plaintiff Mary Dupuis-Jarbo claimed breach of contract.

Dupuie-Jarbo said in her lawsuit that she had a verbal agreement with Kandrevas for a promotion that she was denied twice in favor of people Kandrevas knew. She later was laid off.

Dupuie-Jarbo began working in the court’s work program in January 2005 as a part-time supervisor. She also assisted with the drug court program and was cross-trained in other jobs pending a potential full-time position.

Dupuie-Jarbo said she was pursuing a General Educational Development certificate based on a verbal promise from Kandrevas that she would be eligible for full-time work with benefits once she earned the certificate.
In deposition transcripts, Kandrevas denied promising her a promotion.

After Jarbo earned her GED, she was passed over twice in favor of people Kandrevas knew, including a man who was a convicted felon. Kandrevas said Jarbo was let go because of budgetary constraints.

There was also an allegation of a strange incident on Election Day 2008, when Kandrevas defeated Bill Colovos.

According to a police report, Peter Jarbo was approached at the civic center polling station by Patricia Kandrevas, and she asked who he was going to vote for. When he said that it was none of her business, she allegedly hit him on his head with a yardstick.

In the report he filed with the Police Department, Jarbo said he was afraid of filing it because his mother worked for the court and he feared she could lose her job.

Gordon said she believed Kandrevas pressured public officials to drop or delay handling the complaint.

“He decided to file a police report and they interviewed the people that were there with the judge’s wife and never even tried to talk to the judge’s wife,” Gordon said.

She said during the deposition that officers said they never interviewed Patricia Kandrevas. Judge Kandrevas also said they didn’t.

The story said the police could find no evidence of the incident in the surveillance video and two witnesses didn’t corroborate the son’s story.

According to city attorney Edward Zelenak, both women’s claims are “great works of fiction” but the city chose to save money by settling rather than dragging out litigation.

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