DETROIT – Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. won't be practicing law any time soon, and likely never again.
He was a probate attorney for his day job over the years while he worked as a Wayne County Commissioner and powerful State Legislator. He hasn't done much in court since he joined the Detroit City Council last year. If you go by the word of many of his former clients, lawyering was a job he was not particularly good at either.
We have chronicled the lengthy string of lawsuits and complaints filed against him over the years and the law license suspensions he has served. Interestingly enough today "Cush," as his friends call him, told Local 4 his ability to practice law is irrelevant to his City Council duties, and therefore unremarkable as a news story. Yet, when we asked to do interviews with him about this "insignificant story" twice over the past two days, he opted out. Might it be bigger than he is letting on?
Let's look at the mountain of facts in this non-news story. George lost his license for 45 days back in December, and he could have had it back soon if he wanted to pay the fines and actually attend a trial to determine his fitness to practice law before the Attorney Grievance Commission. You see, George did not appear for a first trial. His attorney, seated alone at the proceedings, said George was in Florida under a doctor's care and had entered the "Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program." That program is designed for dealing with alcohol, drug and gambling addiction. [George claims gastro intestinal distress as his reason for being in the program].
Not amused, the Attorney Grievance Commission sanctioned him with the most recent 45 day suspension. That one came on top of another 45 day suspension he picked up in early 2014 for improperly disposing of a separate probate estate years earlier.
Fast forward to today: Instead of sitting through another trial, Cushingberry told Local 4 he has agreed to allow his license to be suspended for a year and consented to making it permanent. Here's the likely reason why we won't see George practicing law again: in order to get his license reinstated he would have to sit for the bar exam again.
Now, the one-year suspension started today (view the suspension order here) and the Attorney Grievance Commission paperwork says it is for not showing up at the hearing back in December. The Attorney Discipline Board never even got to the question of whether George committed malpractice in the handling of a woman's estate that brought on this latest suspension, which as you will recall would be his third in a year.
While George's claim that he can still be a City Council Pro Tem without his law license may be correct, but only to a point. Remember that George himself told us when he first got into office that it needs to be a new day in Detroit; where City Council needs to lead in a new and different fashion.
Sadly, George's escapades with a traffic stop that included an open container of alcohol and the smell of marijuana, personal bankruptcy and old clients looking to garnish his city council wages seems to have the feel of "same old Detroit City Council." Might we remind the councilmember he is an elected city official, whose qualifications and history [both personal and professional] matter greatly to voters and the city itself.
Most of his issues were not known during his City Council campaign. Voters cannot be blamed for wondering if George's "gastro intestinal" problems are weighing down his customer service, or whether his now admitted legal missteps might hurt his ability to represent their needs at the council table. Moreover, they certainly cannot be blamed for wondering if these constant headlines about a city council member with more problems than the Kardashians might not be helping the city's post-bankruptcy reputation.
George, perhaps not spending any more time in a courtroom might free you up for more work trying to revive the city. But this city cannot ignore the oil slick of disaster that trails behind you as you take your seat at the council table.