Something slimy slithers into court
Allegations of government threats in secret meeting
Published: February 14, 2012
News Hits can't say with certainty exactly who is guilty of what, but we can say with a high degree of certainty that a distinctly odious smell was unleashed when we opened up a motion the Detroit International Bridge Company filed with the Wayne County Circuit Court last week.
Every media outlet in town has reported how the company — controlled by the family of Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun — agreed to finally abide by the orders of Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards and build its share of the southwest Detroit Gateway Project according to the terms of a contract it has with the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The company still maintains that the contract doesn't clearly spell out what must be done, and that it will appeal Edwards' decision in the hopes that the state will eventually have to cough up a lot of cash. But, in the meantime, the DIBC claims that it will do exactly what the judge and MDOT say it has to do.
Had they not, Matty, chairman of the bridge company's board of directors, and bridge company President Dan Stamper ran the distinct risk of being sent back to jail for contempt. Edwards had already sent the two men to the slammer last month. They spent about 30 hours behind bars, then were released while the Court of Appeals agreed to consider the issue. When the higher court confirmed the right of Edwards to use jail as a way to coerce the company into obeying his orders, it seemed the DIBC honchos were out of options: Either do what the judge says, or be prepared to don an orange jumpsuit.
Like we said, all that has been well-covered.
Also covered were statements by assistant attorney general Robert Mol, representing MDOT, who urged Edwards to reject the bridge company's motion to disqualify himself; Mol said the allegations in the motion lacked both merit and proof of Edwards having done anything to warrant disqualification. Edwards agreed and decided to stay on the case.
What we haven't seen exposed elsewhere, though, were details of allegations contained in that motion. Part of the reason it didn't get covered is that the bridge company's team of lawyers declined the opportunity to say in open court what they claimed on paper.
And this is where we get to the really smelly part.
In essence, Gov. Rick Snyder, Judge Edwards and Charles Scales — an engineer and attorney appointed by Edwards to monitor the bridge company's progress in completing the work ordered by the court — are accused of participating in what amounts to a conspiracy designed to get the bridge company to back off its opposition to construction of a publicly owned bridge linking Windsor to the Delray area of Detroit.
Snyder wants the new bridge. Edwards wanted to see his son, Prentis Edwards Jr., appointed by Snyder to a vacant seat on the 36th District Court. Put the two pieces together and you get an allegation based on conjecture.
Snyder's office flatly denies trying to influence the outcome of the case. Said his spokeswoman Sara Wurfel: "I hate to even dignify more of the same ridiculous claims of the Morouns and their multimillion-dollar campaign of misinformation, mistruths and distortion." She added that Snyder has played "no role whatsoever" in the Gateway case.
Which brings us to the truly disturbing part of what's contained in the motion:
Attorneys for the bridge company allege that in June 2011 monitor Scales contacted attorney Reginald Turner, who had recently been brought on board as part of the DIBC legal team, and asked that they meet in private. Turner agreed. At that meeting, held at Detroit's Book-Cadillac Hotel, Scales allegedly told Turner that Judge Edwards would keep ruling against the bridge company as long as the company opposed construction of a new, publicly owned bridge that would provide competition to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge.
In addition, monitor Scales allegedly said that if the company cooperated, it would be granted the right to run a lucrative duty-free shop on the U.S. side of the new bridge.
According to the filing:
"Mr. Turner left that meeting very troubled, and believed the Monitor Scales had been sent to convey to DIBC that it had no choice but to withdraw its opposition to Governor Snyder's proposed NITC [New International Trade Crossing] Bridge if DIBC wanted any relief in this case from Judge Edwards or cooperation from MDOT. Monitor Scales, who is an attorney, would have known that Mr. Turner was required to convey that message to his client, DIBC. The nature of the threat was unambiguous, and can be attributed to Judge Edwards since Mr. Scales serves as the Court's Monitor."
Scales provided News Hits with a radically different account of events.
For starters, he said, it was Turner who asked that the two meet, and not the other way around, as is claimed in the court filing.
The two men, said Scales, are long-time personal friends. As Turner was just coming on board as part of the bridge company's legal team, he wanted to get Scales' candid perspective on the case. Scales agreed to an "off the record" chat with his friend over drinks, with the understanding that any information shared would remain between just the two of them.
"I wasn't there to relay any messages from the judge, the governor or any other party," said Scales. "It was a meeting between friends, having an informal conversation."
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