BLOG: Inside the courtroom for Detroit's money crisis
Local 4's Rod Meloni is in the courtroom for the hearing before Judge Collette
INGHAM COUNTY, Mich. – Judge Collette asks whether the mayor can fire the corporation counsel. The answer is he needs six city council votes. Collette asks more questions, still uncertain why he is hearing this. Collette: "the corporation counsel has veto power over contracts?" No, said Crittendon's counsel.
Collette is now trying to establish the connection between the corporation counsel's lawsuit and whether the state would be entering into an invalid contract. They discussion is whether the corporation counsel has standing.
Now they are discussion house
Collette; it is my opinion where a corporation counsel has filed a suit against the mayor's
The capacity to bring this lawsuit.
The hearing is under a phalanx of half a dozen attorneys are appearing before Judge Collette. He is seated in his black robe, seated on an ornately decorated, wooden bench. The judge welcomed the attorneys. Krystal Crittendon's representative pled his case before Collette as if this were an appeals court hearing. The lawyer making his case he filed and the judge asking him questions about the pleadings. So far, as Crittendon's side explained the corporation counsel's reasoning for filing this case, he said it is really very straight forward, is the consent decree, the agreement between the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit legal. The judge seemed a bit stumped by the case, on why everyone is here. He asked how it could be and why Crittendon's position is that somehow the State of Michigan is the reason for all of this. He asked "why the state would be involved in an invalid contract?" He also incredulously asked "so you just want a ruling?" on the consent agreement. The answer was yes.
The Treasurer's office attorney explained her version of the case, that there is a sense of urgency because of the fiscal emergency in Detroit and her belief the city's corporation counsel is erroneous in her belief that she has standing in the case.
Mayor Bing's attorney is now up and he is explaining the emergency motions, asking to have this whole thing thrown out. Judge Collette indicated he has never seen or heard a case like this one and alternately sat leaning back in his chair with a puzzled look on his face and putting his hand over his face trying to wrap his arms around the complexities.
He is now questioning Crittendon's attorney about the Mayor's emergency motion… there is a dust up between Bing's lawyers and Crittendon's about when the motions were filed [it was after 5pm] and the judge said it doesn't matter when it was filed, it's in and needs a response.
It's a fulcrum moment for the City of Detroit this morning. The very ability for the to pay its bills and whether it can avert an emergency manager will be decided in inside the Ingham County Courthouse, inside the courtroom of Judge William Collette. It is a most unlikely setting in that this place is a universe away from the courthouses we know in Metro Detroit. Collette's court sits inside the bucolic confines of Downtown Mason, Michigan. The building itself is a small replica of the state capitol building; marble floors leading to a circular center square where you can look up and see the ornately painted ceilings which make up the base of the building's clock tower much like the capital dome in Lansing [only a few mile up the county road]. This building sports a small historic museum where the military uniforms and trappings of Mason residents of the Civil War, World War I and World War II periods and the tools of the Ingham County Clerk's office over that same time are all displayed under glass. Uniforms, vintage weaponry, farm implements, county seal machines all carefully lit and giving a window into the rich history of a rural Michigan town.
Judge Collette was in his courtroom happy to greet us in the media who came to this place that will have so much meaning to the City of Detroit. Judge Collette, jovial and happy to tell us he had worked in Downtown Detroit previously, loves it here in Mason. His clerk was not in the office. The judge letting on he was not sure why she wasn't in but there must have been a doctor's appointment with her children or something. He was also happy to allow that it is his clerk that runs the place. This is small town Michigan at its finest, where the Judge was happy to converse with us in the media as we perused the six inch thick case file that sat openly on a heavy wooden desk atop beautiful hardwood floors. In fact, he hadn't read it yet. Over a twenty minute span we traded the case file, the judge needing to see Mayor Dave Bing's early morning emergency filing so he could rule. We needed to see it to pass along to our audience. It was a strange yet comforting scene considering everyone was able to do their jobs and get along nicely. One more note about this place in constrast to Metro Detroit. There is no security in this building to speak of. Yes there must be a bailiff or two, but no security screening positions, no magnetos, no emptying your pockets as a means to entry. The only concession to security concerns are signs on the wall saying no weapons are allowed on the third floor of the County Courthouse.
Now that I've set the scene, it's time to get down to business. This case is vital for the city's future. Mayor Dave Bing and his attorneys, independent counsel hired to fight with his own corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon, filed that emergency motion with the judge as we were arriving. It is a two pronged motion. 1.) A request to intervene in Crittendon's case questioning the legality of the consent agreement under the City of Detroit's newly reworked charter. 2.) Motion for summary judgment. Essentially the mayor is trying to get his own appointee to back down, wants the judge to tell her to, and he is asking for an immediate ruling on the point. The hearing is scheduled for 10am, we are in place, the live stream camera is up and running. I will be writing commentary about the goings on as they unfold. This is important and certainly interesting.