FTC takes 94 legal actions against companies including First Choice Horizon, LLC and Media Mix 365, worst offenders targeting seniors, poor
TRACED Act and Stopping Bad Robocalls Act pending in U.S. Congress, expected to be finalized in fall
51 State AG’s including Michigan’s Dana Nessel send letter to FCC asking for more stringent action
LANSING – The Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Congress, 50 state Attorneys General, including Michigan’s Dana Nessel, and consumer groups are calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take stringent action to make telecom providers implement technology that blocks illegal and unwanted robocalls, as well as caller-ID spoofing.
FTC files 94 actions v. First Choice Horizon, LLC, Media Mix 365, others
“We’re all fed up with the tens of billions of illegal robocalls we get every year,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Fighting this scourge remains a top priority for law enforcement agencies around the nation.”
The crackdown involves nearly 100 cases, five of which are criminal enforcement actions. They were brought by the FTC, Justice Department, 50 states and a slew of local authorities.
The Washington Post reported, “The government’s efforts come as robocalls continue to ring Americans’ phones at record rates. Scam calls made up a large share of the estimated 4.7 billion robocalls to mobile devices in May, according to YouMail, an app that helps block them. That’s more than double the amount from two years ago, an uptick that has prompted Americans to complain to the FTC at historic levels. The agency said Tuesday that it now receives about 10,000 robocall complaints per day.”
“The FTC filed complaints in federal court in Florida earlier this year against two of the main actors in the Robocall nightmare. They are First Choice Horizon, LLC, believed to be the lead entity in a maze of operations that prey on poor Americans, including seniors, and Media Mix 365, which dialed millions of numbers on the federal Do Not Call list.”
The FTC added in a June 25 release, “The Federal Trade Commission and its law enforcement partners today announced a major crackdown on illegal robocalls, including 94 actions targeting operations around the country that are responsible for more than one billion calls pitching a variety of products and services including credit card interest rate reduction services, money-making opportunities, and medical alert systems.
The joint crackdown, “Operation Call it Quits,” is part of the Commission’s ongoing effort to help stem the tide of universally loathed pre-recorded telemarketing calls. It also includes new information to help educate consumers about illegal robocalls. In addition, the FTC continues to promote the development of technology-based solutions to block robocalls and combat caller ID spoofing.”
The FTC said targeted companies and individuals also included 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle, Derek Jason Bartoli, Lifewatch Inc., Redwood Scientific, and Life Management Services.
Actions in U.S. Congress expected to force stronger actions, after FTC, FCC fail to collect on record fines levied in the past
The National Law Review reported that a bill in the U.S. House prods the FTC and the FCC to toughen their efforts. “The bill faults the agencies for failing to collect on some of the record fines they’ve levied in the past. Lawmakers also cited the emerging threat to doctors and patients, urging the agencies to prioritize investigations that involve hospitals.”
U.S. Senators John Thune and Ed Markey
The Verge said, “In the U.S. Congress, a bipartisan proposal, the TRACED Act, was introduced by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Ed Markey (D-MA). It would raise the fines the FCC is permitted to levy on robocallers, and increase the statute of limitations for bringing those cases. It would also create an interagency task force to address the problem, and push carriers like AT&T and Verizon to deploy call authentication systems like the pending STIR/SHAKEN protocols into their networks.”
“The bill, known as the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, builds on the TRACED Act passed by the Senate in May. The House and the Senate now need to reconcile the two bills before sending the legislation to the White House for the President’s signature. That’s expected to happen in the fall.
“In addition to giving regulators stronger enforcement tools, the House bill would require phone carriers to implement call identification technology and mandate that the Federal Communications Commission report to Congress annually on the state of robocalls.
“The House is sending a strong message that it is time to stop the abuse from robocalls,” [said] Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports. “This bill would go a long way toward protecting people from the daily harassment of unwanted robocalls. These calls aren’t just annoying. Shady businesses and individuals are using them to steal your money and your personal information. With today’s House vote, we now look forward to seeing the strongest possible bill enacted into law.”
The paper added that 80 consumer rights groups, including Consumer Reports and the National Consumer Law Center, sent a letter to Congress urging passage of the bill. The wireless industry trade group CTIA also supports it.
Consumer Reports went on, “To date, there have been 29 billion robocalls in 2019, according to YouMail, a robocall blocking and tracking firm. ‘That’s nearly 90 calls per person in the U.S.,’ said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. The blocking and tracking firm Truecaller estimates that consumers lost $10.5 billion to phone scams in 2018.
51 State Attorneys General announce their support for new FCC ruls
The letter from the Attorneys General comes after the FCC issued a declaratory ruling and proposed new rules related to federal and industry efforts to block illegal robocalls and eliminate caller-ID spoofing. This effort comes following last week’s unveiling of the Anti-Robocall Principles to fight illegal and unwanted robocalls by the Attorneys General and 12 major telecom providers.
Michigan State AG Dana Nessel
“Illegal and unwanted robocalls continue to harm and hassle people every day,” the letter says. “Consumer fraud often originates with an illegal call, and robocalls regularly interrupt our daily lives. State Attorneys General are on the front lines of enforcing do-not-call laws and helping people who are scammed and harassed by these calls. For this reason, we support free, robust call blocking that is simple and easy for all consumers, and the timely implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN Caller ID authentication framework.”
In a release, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “The FCC is integral in holding telecom providers accountable. We hope that the FCC will heed our advice to protect consumers in Michigan and across the country from caller-ID spoofing and the flood of illegal and unwanted robocalls.”
In their letter, the Attorneys General state that telecom providers should:
Offer free, default call-blocking services to all customers based on reasonable analytics that do not block important calls such as emergency alerts or automated calls requested by customers;
Implement the caller-ID authentication technology – known as STIR/SHAKEN – which will help ensure telephone calls are originating from secure, verified numbers as quickly as possible;
Develop separate landline caller-ID authentication to prevent illegal and unwanted robocalls to seniors or those that live in rural areas; and,
Ensure that call blocking and call authentication efforts protect consumer data.
Many of these actions reflect the Anti-Robocall Principles established and released late last week by the Attorneys General along with AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, and Windstream. These principles address illegal and unwanted robocalls through prevention and enforcement. The 50 state Attorneys General submitted their comments.
Defendants Derrico Searcy and Darrell Ewing listen to testimony of former jurors Aug. 26, 2019.
Juror Kathleen Byrnes gives powerful testimony on juror misconduct during trials, convictions of Darrell Ewing, Derrico Searcy
Byrnes says introduction of banned research changed her vote to “Guilty,” at evidentiary hearing Aug. 26, 2019
“I remember this trial so well because it haunted me. I just kept wondering if I had done something terribly wrong.”—Byrnes
“What really matters is whether ONE juror, Kathleen Byrnes, was inappropriately influenced”—Judge M. Hathaway, who can order new trial
State AG has petitioned Judge Hood for hearing deadline to be extended past Aug. 28, if petition granted, hearing to be continued until Fri. Sept. 6 at 1:30 pm
Ewing’s mother: Judge’s order demands release after Aug. 28, she and other supporters want release outright, or pending new trial
By Diane Bukowski
Aug. 27, 2019
Supporters of Ewing and Searcy outside courtroom Aug. 19; hearing was postponed because Ewing hadn’t been writted out from prison.
DETROIT – The juror in the 2011 murder trials of Darrell Ewing and Derrico Searcy who exposed the introduction of banned “extraneous material” from Facebook and the internet into jury deliberations gave powerful testimony Aug. 26 backing up her claim.
Former juror Kathleen Byrnes said firmly during an evidentiary hearing in front of retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway that the material caused her to change her original “not guilty” verdict. She testified in a courtroom packed with family members and supporters of the two co-defendants.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood
The hearing was held at the order of U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood, after the Sixth Circuit Court affirmed her earlier order vacating the conviction, in part, and remanded the case to her for further action. Hood originally cited an affidavit written by by Byrnes regarding the jury misconduct as one cause for her order. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Byrnes-affidavit.compressed-4.pdf.
Hood said in part: “On January 10, 2011, Juror # 4, Kathleen Frances Byrnes, filed an affidavit informing the court that during deliberations Juror # 13 (Michelle Chesny) brought in Facebook information regarding petitioner’s past history and information pertaining to an online eulogy for J.B. Watson. Ms. Byrnes also informed the court that Juror # 5 (Karen James) had googled gang information and brought up information pertaining to gang codes and gang activity that she found on the internet. This Court notes that the jurors brought into jury deliberations the same type of information that the trial court excluded prior to petitioner’s trial.”
Former Juror Kathleen Byrnes
At the end of her testimony, Byrnes, who had been previously been extremely composed and dignified during lengthy and detailed examinations, broke down, shaking and in tears.
“I remember this trial so well because it haunted me,” Byrnes said. “I just kept wondering if I had done something terribly wrong.”
Byrnes testified she was the lone hold-out for a “not guilty” verdict until another juror, identified by trial counsel as Karen James, discussed her internet research on “pecking order” in gangs at length.
She said James told her that another man who admitted to the allegedly gang-related killing of J.B. Watson on Dec. 29, 2009, Tyree Washington, was at the bottom of the “Hustle Boys” gang pecking order and took the fall for Ewing, who was allegedly at the top.
Washington later wrote an affidavit confessing to the crime which he sent to the prosecutor during the Ewing/Searcy trial. He said the “Hustle Boys” was not a gang and his motive for killing J.B. Watson was that Watson had earlier shot at him and his child and the child’s mother while they were driving. Adrienne Jackson, who was driving the car at the time, submitted an affidavit affirming his confession, but saying she had no idea what he was planning to do.
Byrnes said Tyree Washington’s photo resembled Darrell Ewing, but was accused of racism by jurors for saying so.
“Prior to this juror bringing in this information, I was the only hold-out because I felt that reasonable doubt existed because another person had confessed,” Byrnes said. She said emphatically that the “pecking order” information changed her verdict. Byrnes said she had asked earlier why anyone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit.
Trial judge the late Carole Youngblood had instructed the jury not to consider anything other than evidence presented at the trial, specifically including information from internet research. She earlier denied the prosecution’s motion to bring in a “Facebook expert” to testify, during a pre-trial hearing.
The jury brought back a unanimous “guilty” verdict after Byrnes changed her vote, only one day after they sent a note to Judge Youngblood asking if they could declare a “hung jury” because they were hopelessly deadlocked. Byrnes said the discussion on gang “pecking orders” took place after the deadlock note was sent.
Youngblood told the jury to continue deliberating, without giving standard “deadlock” instructions which emphasize no juror should change their honestly-held verdict as a result of pressure from the others.
The late Judge Carole Youngblood
Assistant Prosecutor Jon Wojtala argued that a witness who testified about Tyree Washington’s confession already said at trial that Washington was a “flunky” for Ewing. Byrnes and two other jurors testified that they recalled information about Ewing’s gang membership only from the prosecutor’s opening statement, not from witness testimony.
A second juror, Michelle Chesny, testified that she looked up Ewing’s Facebook page despite the late Judge Youngblood’s instructions, and brought the results of her research into the jury deliberations. She claimed the material did not affect anyone’s verdict, but repeatedly said she could “not recall” much of anything else. She said she thought it would be “OK” to look up the Facebook information.
Chesny appeared resentful at having to testify.
“I don’t mean to shortcut this hearing, but you can call all other 11 jurors and have them say it didn’t matter, but what really matters is whether ONE juror, Kathleen Byrnes, was inappropriately influenced,” Judge Hathaway told AP Wojtala After Chesny’s testimony.
Former juror Michelle Chesny testifies as Judge Michael Hathaway listens.
“It is irrefutable that she had some doubts that were reasonable, based on the ID evidence and the confession of Mr. Washington, and that she was worn down by other jurors bringing extraneous information into the jury process,” Hathaway concluded. “Even the last witness admitted she went on Facebook. I have an order from Judge Denise Page Hood that I have to follow. I have to conduct a responsible hearing.”
Hathaway added that Byrnes clearly had maintained her doubts for nearly 10 years.
In her order on remand, Judge Hood said, “The petition for a writ of habeas corpus is again granted on petitioner’s second claim involving the use of extraneous influence. The grant is conditioned upon the state trial court conducting an evidentiary hearing on petitioner’s juror misconduct claim within 120 days of this Court’s order and making a determination as to whether the extraneous information had a prejudicial effect upon the jury’s verdict. If the judge so finds, he or she shall order a new trial for petitioner. Ewing v. Horton, 914 F.3d at 1031-34.”
A third juror, Joyce Hall (sp?) who now works in the office of the Wayne County Prosecutor, also testified. She said she did recall other jurors doing internet research regarding the pecking order of gangs and gang codes, but that she herself did not do so because she had no access to the internet and because the judge ordered the jurors not to do so. She also recalled another juror looking up Ewing’s Facebook page.
Defense attorney Phillip Comorski.
“I remember her saying something about him and his girlfriend making hand signs in a photo,” she said. She said she assumed the “hand signs” were meant to be gang-related.
Defense attorney Phillip Comorski told VOD that Michigan Atty. General Dana Nessel’s office petitioned for an extension of Hood’s order past Aug. 28 if the hearing was not completed by then. .
“We are hoping my son is released as ordered originally by Judge Hood,” Ewing’s mother Lasonya Dodson told VOD. “And if there is a new trial ordered, we want my son home pending the date of the new trial.”
Defense Private Investigator Scott Lewis told VOD that in past innocence cases, the prosecutor’s office has waited months after a judge orders a new trial, before finally declaring that they cannot hold one for various reasons and finally allowing the defendant’s final release.
In the event that the Aug. 28 order is lifted, Judge Hathaway said he would continue continue the hearing until Friday, Sept. 6 at 1:3o pm because Wojtala said he had two other witnesses. They are the jury foreman and an investigator for the prosecution. Wojtala said the investigator delivered a subpoena to Byrnes and discussed the case with her. Byrnes said that the investigator was a friend of her husband’s family and that she thought they were just “having a conversation,” that lasted only a short while.
Darrell Ewing, mother LaSonya Dodson to his left, and sisters.
Byrnes also cited numerous other irregularities she said took place during jury deliberations, including:
An alleged statement by the jury foreman that the jury HAD to bring back a verdict, despite any anyone’s doubts, after Judge Youngblood’s response to the deadlock note.
Other jurors’ statements that they also had seen the photos from Ewing’s Facebook page (Juror Chesny did not bring the actual photos into the deliberations.)
“Once we got into the jury room, it became free to say whatever we wanted to say among the jurors.”—Byrnes.
The jury as a whole felt that since the two defendants were being tried together, if Ewing was guilty, so was Searcy. The jury spent little time deliberating on Searcy’s guilt.
Jurors threatening her that if Ewing and Searcy were released, and the jurors’ children were killed as a result, that she would be responsible.
Jurors did their own research about witness’s testimony that he observed Ewing and Searcy commit the murder from his rear-view mirror, checking what they could see from their rear-view mirrors.
Ewing and Searcy earlier appealed their guilty verdicts on three grounds. They included Judge Youngblood’s failure to give the proper “deadlocked jury” instruction, the extraneous information in jury deliberations, and Tyree Washington’s confession to the killings after trial in an affidavit, as newly discovered evidence. They lost their cases in state Courts and moved on to a habeas corpus appeal in federal courts.
Above is confession by Tyree Washington, taken by P.I. Scott Lewis.
Washington’s confession, above, is to the killing of J.B. Watson after Watson threatened the lives of his girl friend and child, and does not appear to have been “gang-related.”
U.S. District Court Judge Hood, who heard the habeas appeal. vacated the conviction on the second ground only. She noted there had been testimony at trial regarding Washington’s confession, although Washington himself did not appear.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court remanded the case to Hood, who originally ordered a new trial outright. The Sixth Circuit, with one dissenting vote in favor of a new trial, said “The appropriate remedy in such a case, however, is generally to order release unless the State provides—instead of a new trial—a hearing to consider whether a new trial is warranted. Such an order should have been entered by the district court in this case.”
Editor: Author Gary Younge recently published a reflection on the causes of alleged gang-related violence among youth, appropriate here because the jury in this case clearly had pre-conceived notions and biases about Black gangs in particular. Read it at:
Retired DPD Deputy Chief James Younger in 2018 was head of Detroit’s disbanded Gang Squad.
Ex-offenders I have talked with have said that at the time they went to prison, in the mid-’70’s, there were no such things as gangs in Detroit, that they were basically loose affiliations of young people who admittedly stole cars and committed other street crimes.
One juvenile lifer whose case I followed for years in the Michigan Citizen was arrested by Detroit Police Officer James Younger in 1975. Younger later became head of the Detroit Police Gang Squad, disbanded in 2013 due to allegations of corruption and brutality. Younger claimed this teen was a gang leader, a claim discounted by his peers.
Juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, whose case VOD has been following for three and one-half years, was similarly portrayed as a leader of a gang at the time of his arrest in 1976. However, he and his family discount that claim, again saying the alleged gang was a loose affiliation of Black youth in a mostly-white neighborhood rapidly changing due to white flight, stoked by racist real estate “block-busters.
Racist Judges like Thomas Poindexter, who headed the Greater Detroit Homeowners Council, aimed at keeping Blacks out of white neighborhoods also stoked the flames of racisl hate. Lewis’ court-appointed defense attorney Arther Arduin earlier was Poindexter’s campaign manager. Lewis was sentenced to LWOP by another known racist judge Joseph Maher, who unsuccessfully attempted to take famed militant attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr.s’ law license for telling the media that Maher was a racist in community dialect terms.
Lewis is currently awaiting a “mitigation hearing” October 11. Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Dawson stressed his alleged gang roots in a brief calling for him to be re-sentenced to life without parole.
Imam Luqman Abdullah
The history of the Black Panthers and their political education of so-called “gang members” among Black youth is well-known. Former Black Panthers including Jamil El-Amin (H. Rap Brown) formed a national organization, The International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment, aimed at continuing this tradition. For this reason, El-Amin was falsely imprisoned for life, and another member of that organization, Detroit’s Imam Luqman Abdullah, was assassinated by the Department of Justice along with Detroit and Dearborn police in 2009.
Powerful video above condemns mass incarceration of Black youth by units like Detroit’s gang squad. Current Detroit police chief James Craig has recently announced that he plans to reconstitute the gang squad and also called for the introduction of murderous tasers into the DPD arsenal.
NOTE: VOD WAS THE ONLY MEDIA OUTLET TO COVER THIS IMPORTANT HEARING. BUT WE CANNOT CONTINUE TO PUBLISH WITHOUT THE FINANCIAL SUPPORT, OF WHATEVER AMOUNT, FROM OUR READERSHIP. EDITOR DIANE BUKOWSKI AND FRIENDS STRUGGLED TO PAY THEIR BILLS, AND WERE FREQUENRLY PENNILESS DURING OUR COVERAGE. THE FRONT BUMPER OF BUKOWSKI’S CAR FELL OFF ON THE WAY TO THIS HEARING.
Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono by folks on extremely limited incomes, going. Among ongoing expenses are quarterly Lunar Pages web host charges of $350, due Sept. 4, costs for court documents, internet fees, office supplies, gas, P.O. Box, etc. Please, if you can:
PROTESTERS OUTSIDE AG NESSEL’S OFFICE MAY 25, 2019 Photo: Christine Abood
A Michigan court tasked with protecting its most vulnerable citizens has become home to a roiling controversy charging abuse, exploitation, robbery and neglect.
Part One of Five: Unacknowledged and Unprotected
By Gretchen Rachel Hammond
Michigan AG Dana Nessel, with MSC Justice Richard Bernstein at left, Justice Megan Cavanagh at right, announces formation of Elder Abuse Task Force May 25, 2019.
In the frigid, early morning of Monday, March 25, 2019, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel held a press conference announcing a taskforce primarily charged with reforming a court system rooted in medieval English law.
According to state and national activists, it’s a system that has been left unchecked for decades and is now so broken that it has led to unprecedented judicial overeach and the eradication of the constitutional, civil and human rights of thousands of Americans who have suffered from resulting neglect, isolation, abuse, torture and theft on a massive scale, allegedly at the hands of the same individuals assigned to protect them.
Both in Michigan and nationwide, the system is called “guardianship” and/or “conservatorship.”
Once assigned to an individual that a probate or family court judge declares “legally incapacitated” and unable to manage their own affairs, often a complete stranger in the form of a court-appointed guardian or conservator assumes control over every aspect of that person’s life.
U.S. Veteran Gayle Robinson, 83, of Westland, Michigan was forced out of the home in which she and her husband raised 10 children and lived for 50 years, and into a nursing home, by Wayne Co. Probate Court.
Every last possession, penny and decision is handed over to one of Michigan’s professional guardians and conservators culled from a pool of county public administrators, estate and probate attorneys or private guardianship companies.
In as little as a year, wards have been rendered completely indigent and reliant upon social services and benefits such as Medicaid. Their homes are gone, as are their savings accounts, IRAs, investment accounts, cars, personal belongings, keepsakes, heirlooms, jewelry and even their clothing. Every dollar of their social security, disability income or pensions falls under the control of their guardians with the exception of an allowance as low as $60 per month.
Inevitably, it’s the developmentally disabled and exponentially growing senior populations who are the most affected not only in Michigan but nationwide. Advocates for both groups claim that guardianship, by design, results in a “civil death” for those who are subjected to it and that, although free from any charges of wrongdoing, a person under guardianship has less rights than an imprisoned felon.
Gayle Robinson at the Montford Marine Corps Black History Month Dinner in 2010.
Pro-guardianship organizations claim such statements are histrionic; that a guardian has simply assumed the rights of an incapacitated individual, also called a “ward,” as a protective barrier against those who would exploit them.
However, across the country, wards and their families have come forward with stories, detailing the brutality and horror of a life under guardianship, that belong more in a ruthless, dystopian autocracy than the American experience. In a country where personal freedoms and the rule of law are sacrosanct, incredulous listeners repeatedly ask, “How can this possibly be true? How can this possibly be legal?”
In Michigan, it is not only legal but shockingly easy for an individual to suddenly find themselves under a guardianship. It is a process that begins with a two-page petition filed in a county probate court with no corroborating medical evidence of incapacity and, often, without the knowledge of the prospective ward or their families.
A Life Sentence
In the hours before Nessel’s press conference started, a small group of these families gathered on the broad sidewalk outside the entrance to her offices in Lansing, Michigan. Among them were retired teachers, artists, business owners and homemakers. Black, white, working- and middle- class, they were staunch Republicans, centrists and far-left Democrats, devout Christians and equally outspoken atheists.
Notorious Guardian/Atty. Mary Rowan (seated in blue) grabs Mailauni Williams’ arm in Wayne Co. Probate Court June 13, 2013. Mailauni was the goddaughter of Rosa Parks. Rowan seized the developmentally disabled young woman; her mother did not know where she was at for weeks and it took her months to regain custody. Photo: Cornell Squires
Once–strangers from wildly different backgrounds, they have been united into a small army fighting a daily war so impossible, so emotionally and financially devastating, that only the tiniest shreds of optimism keep it alive.
Optimism brought them to Nessel’s office, where, huddled together in heavy coats holding signs emblazoned in multicolored lettering, they hoped to finally be heard, believed and for something to be done about what they say is unfettered corruption inside Michigan’s probate courtrooms that has terrorized entire communities, no matter their racial, religious, financial or social backgrounds. Even the families and friends of American icons Aretha Franklin and Rosa Parks have been affected.
Families of individuals under guardianship and conservatorship claim that, during a hearing that typically lasted under four minutes, their loved ones were stripped of their freedom by the state’s probate judges with no due process, no jury present and scant testimony offered via the opinion of a probate and estate attorney who had no medical or psychological training.
Their days are now spent inside a long-term care or assisted living facility, placed in a lockdown ward or hidden behind the front door of group homes both licensed and unlicensed, sometimes in subhuman living conditions. Families assert that it is a life sentence for the innocent in which they are drugged and isolated from those who challenge the presiding judge and appointed guardian by fighting for their loved one’s release.
Present Michigan statute is supposed to protect a ward’s statutory rights, such as the right to request a limit on the guardian’s powers or attend a guardianship hearing,. However, attorneys state that judges are routinely ignoring it. Multiple efforts to strengthen the statute, through legislative recommendations made by successive guardianship and senior taskforces, have failed.
We Don’t Have a Say?
Victoria McCasey of Holly and Randy Asplund of Ann Arbor were among group of protesters outside AG office May 25, 2019.
A freelance artist and illustrator, 58-year-old Randy Asplund (shown in photo at left) has been forbidden from seeing his mother Roberta for the past eight months. During her recovery from brain surgery, a 2017 petition for guardianship and conservatorship was filed against Roberta in Ann Arbor’s Washtenaw County Probate Court.
Presiding Judge Julia B. Owdziej declared Roberta incapacitated and, ultimately placed under the guardianship and conservatorship of her to two estate and probate attorneys.
Roberta remains under their control and has been isolated from her son since November 2018, when he tried to bring a legal challenge against the court’s decision to appoint them. Meanwhile, Asplund says his mother’s home has been stripped and her belongings sold off or trashed. He is presently appealing the case and fighting to stop the sale of her house.
Roberta and Randy Asplund, X-mas 2017
“These are people needing to be investigated, prosecuted and jailed,” Asplund says. “Laws are ignored and violated by the courts. The judges use their power to ensure that professional fiduciaries prevail in court, and the ward is almost never able to escape a guardianship or conservatorship.”
But, on March 25, all that was supposed to change with Nessel’s formation of an Elder Abuse Task Force.
Standing outside Nessel’s office, Asplund and his fellow protestors were met with curious glances by passing members of the media hurrying to the press conference. While Asplund managed to tempt a journalist or photographer into a brief, reluctant conversation, others in the group followed the invited members of the media inside the lobby and begged to be allowed to join the event.
Retired Detroit teacher Christine Abood was among them.
Christine Abood with mother Gloria Sullivan
In 2016, her mother Gloria was placed under the control of Oakland County Public Administrator John Yun who put her in a Novi, Michigan, nursing facility. Abood and her sons say they were unable to be at Gloria’s bedside on the night she died because she had been moved and Yun didn’t know where she was.
“I will never forget that, never,” Abood says. “He was supposed to care for her and he didn’t even know where she’d been moved? Why?”
It was a question Abood raised during a 45-minute back-and-forth argument with Nessel’s staffers, who refused her and the other families access to the press conference. She left the lobby, throwing her arms up in exasperation.
“They told us to watch it on Facebook!” She cried to the others. “This is about our families. We’ve been waiting and pleading for something like this and we can’t be a part of it? We don’t have a say?”
An Unacknowledged Narrative
The only victim of elder abuse who was allowed inside the event to tell his story, and so become a focal point for subsequent media coverage of the announcement, was Dennie Burgio (72) who was robbed of his life savings by a close friend.
Nessel emphasized that the majority of elder abuse was perpetrated at the hands of family and friends, a line later echoed by the state’s pro-guardianship lobbyist, the Michigan Guardianship Association (MGA)
” . . . investigations into alleged abuses perpetrated by probate attorneys acting as court-appointed guardians and conservators were never raised” by Nessel
Flanked by Michigan Supreme Court Justices Richard Bernstein and Megan Cavanaugh, Nessel announced nine initial reforms of Michigan’s guardianship system. However, investigations into alleged abuses perpetrated by probate attorneys acting as court-appointed guardians and conservators were never raised. Neither Bernstein nor Cavanaugh raised the prospect of Judicial Tenure Commision investigations into the actions of probate judges.
This, despite the families of those victims having called and emailed both Nessel’s office and that of her predecessors to alert them, as well as filing complaints with both the Michigan Attorney Grievance and Judicial Tenure Commissions.
Milton Mack, now head of SCAO, controls courts state-wide; he was originally head of scandal-plagued Wayne Co. Probate Court, a chief actor in abuse by guardians.
Their complaints, the families assert, were ignored or dismissed; part of an agonizing cycle during which they have been routinely brushed aside not only by the Attorney General’s office but local police, county prosecutors, the State Court Administrator, the Detroit office of the Department of Justice and even local media outlets.
“They tell us to ‘get an attorney,’”Abood says.
It is something easier said than done and, according to national advocates, a challenge common to most families fighting probate cases across the country.
“I’ve been told by local attorneys [that] they wouldn’t take my case because the corruption is too much to prevail,” Asplund notes. “I had to go from Ann Arbor to Lansing to find an attorney who did not usually appear in front of my judge or who relied on the court for business.”
Perplexed as to why they were not invited to the press conference, Asplund, Abood and the rest of the families gathered their collective optimism around an iPhone with the clearest signal and cheered when Nessel pledged that the Taskforce would reform the way the Michigan’s probate courts treat the state’s most vulnerable.
“We know what the problems are,” Nessel said. “So much of being able to cure the problem is to be able to better identify it, how often it’s happening and where.”
But that was far from the end of the story.
The Oakland County Fortress
OAKLAND COUNTY PROBATE COURT, 1200 NORTH TELEGRAPH, PONTIAC, MI
It’s never a good idea to be running late on a Wednesday at The Oakland County Sixth Circuit and Probate Courts, both housed in a stark complex of white and beige structures on 1200 North Telegraph in the Detroit, Michigan, suburb of Pontiac.
On ritualistically called “Motion Days,” each courtroom has a hefty tally of cases that can be called and over in just a few minutes—far quicker than it takes to get inside what local historians once described as a “fortress.”
With the exception of jurors, employees and attorneys, cell phones or recording devices are strictly forbidden. Videos of probate court proceedings must be ordered in advance and can only be watched in the court’s administrative offices. Probate court documents are not subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and can only be reviewed at the court’s sole public computer or purchased at the cost of $1-per-page plus a service fee.
Behind its walls to public access, Oakland County Probate Court Chief Judge Kathleen A. Ryan, and Judges Linda S. Hallmark, Daniel A. O’Brien and Jennifer Callaghan rule on a list of issues including adult guardianships/conservatorships for incapacitated individuals.
Although in the same building as the Sixth Circuit, their courtrooms operate autonomously from it and with little or no oversight, with the exception of rulings occasionally overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Despite some of those cases revealing shocking judicial actions, in the last 30 years, there have been no formal investigations of an Oakland County Probate Court judge.
True to its description, the court has been as unassailable as the majority of decisions made with a single stroke of a judge’s pen on an order finding a person to be legally incapacitated.
According to the wards, their family members, attorneys, and local and national advocates who were interviewed for this investigation, the consequences of that order are devastating and lifelong.
Lunatics and Idiots
The practice of guardianship has been traced back to 1270 England, when King Henry III “assumed control over the estates of lunatics and idiots.”
As with other laws exported to former British colonies that are still practiced in some form, although the language has changed, the basic principles of guardianship in the United States remain the same, and it is a system about which the majority of Americans remain hopelessly uneducated.
Individuals who are declared incapacitated by civil, family and probate court judges across the US are forced to cede their lives to an authority figure who takes complete control of their homes, mail, bank accounts, retirement and social security income, IRAs, life and health insurance, wills and trusts, property, passports, driver’s licenses and voter registration cards.
Rebecca Fierle, Guardian “angel of death”
He or she also dictates where a ward will live, whether they can own a cellphone or a computer, where they may or may not go, who they are and are not allowed to see and what they are or are not allowed to eat.
In fact, any personal, professional and medical decisions are no longer legally the ward’s own, including requests to doctors to dispense or withhold medication, and whether a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order should be enabled and enforced.
Such unilateral power has proven to be ripe for abuse.
In Florida, professional guardian Rebecca Fierle was recently accused of executing DNR orders on her wards without the knowledge or consent of her wards or their family members. One of her wards died of starvation after his feeding tube was capped off.
“It should be blatantly obvious to all who approve of this very old and very entrenched system that such overarching authority should be closely monitored to ensure that wards are safe,” she says. “However, that is not the case. Based on flimsy ‘evidence,’ a person can lose his or her fundamental rights to liberty and property and be handed off to a professional who isn’t monitored or held sufficiently accountable for the welfare of the ward and their assets.”
“A Corrupt Game”
Under Michigan statute, an incapacitated individual is someone who “By reason of mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, chronic intoxication, or other cause, [lacks] sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate informed decisions.”
A guardian is responsible for the ward’s care, custody and control. A conservator (or fiduciary), handles finances and decisions regarding assets that include managing income, real estate, savings and investments. Both positions are granted a substantial list of powers and can be given to a sole individual.
Michigan gives family members priority over court-appointed guardians who are either estate and probate attorneys, populating one of the largest sections of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) or private guardianship companies. They are only supposed to step in only when a judge determines that family members or individuals listed on a potential ward’s Durable Power of Attorney documents are unable, unwilling or unsuitable to fill the role.
Some attorneys are appointed as County Public Administrators by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Primary to their job description is to act as representatives to the estates of deceased individuals where there are no discernable heirs. Nowhere in their job description is it stated that they can act as guardians and conservators.
Yet, Oakland County maintains a present list of 13 public administrators who do just that.
Congratulating Oakland County Probate Court Chief Judge Kathleen A. Ryan (second from right) at the Spring Conference were (left to right) Georgia Callis, vice president, Michigan Guardianship Association; State Court Administrator Milton Mack Jr.; and Amy Katz, president. Michigan GuardianshipAssociation.
In its last statewide caseload statistics for 2018, the Michigan State Supreme Court listed a total of 60,712 adults and developmentally disabled individuals under guardianship and 10,912 adults with a conservator.
With the exception of Veterans (limited to ten), the number of wards each guardian can have is not mandated by state law and varies depending on the size of the county. However, figures which have showed one guardian or guardianship company with over 400 wards caused Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force to propose limits, a measure the Michigan Guardianship Association announced they intend to fight.
As of December 31, 2018, the Oakland County Probate Court had 7,064 open adult and developmentally disabled guardianship cases and 1,417 conservatorships.
A guardianship and/or conservatorship in Michigan begins when a petition is filed in a probate court. The two-page document can be filed by anyone, such as a relative, spouse, friend or neighbor of a prospective ward as well as an outside agency including Michigan’s Adult Protective Services (APS), a nursing facility or hospital. Once filed, the probate court contracts and assigns a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to investigate and determine what actions are in his/her best interests.
In Oakland County, the GAL is an estate and probate attorney who not only files and verbally delivers a report to a judge but acts as a surrogate prosecutor questioning witnesses and cross- examining wards and family members, regardless of whether they are represented by an attorney.
For their services, GALs are paid directly from the ward’s estate.
One guardianship and conservatorship case was decided in O’Brien’s packed and stuffy courtroom on the Motion Day falling on October 10, 2018.
Matthew Martin, Senior Care Network
By the time the case number was called, it was close to lunch and O’Brien had grown increasingly impatient, sternly telling any quibbling attorneys or litigants to “move it along.”
The case was a contested hearing to settle the future of 76-year-old John. For privacy reasons, his last name has been excluded.
The petitioner was Matthew Martin, an external case manager for the Northville, Michigan- based care management company Senior Care Network, an organization which regularly files Oakland County guardianship petitions, who claimed John needed 24-hour care and “assistance applying for Medicaid.”
In delivering his findings as John’s GAL, estate and probate attorney Drew Carnwath recommended that O’Brien assign a public administrator to act as John’s guardian.
O’Brien asked Carnwath to recommend one himself.
Since that was a decision usually made by a judge, Carnwath was confused. “Well, I …” he began.
O’Brien interrupted. “So I don’t get accused of being in on some sort of corrupt game.”
In 1987, an Associated Press investigation of guardianship practices in all 50 states first uncovered what it described as a “burdened and troubled system that regularly puts elderly lives in the hands of others with little or no evidence of necessity, then fails to guard against abuse, theft and neglect.”
In the more than three decades since, it is invariably local journalists, rather than state or federal law enforcement agencies, who have taken the pleas of wards or families allegedly victimized by private or public guardians seriously and launched their own investigations.
In Nevada,New Mexico, New York, Florida,Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and California, to name a few, shocking cases have emerged that, together, form an almost identical pattern of behavior. In exercising their powers of protection, guardians and conservators have forced individuals and even couples from their homes and into nursing or assisted living facilities.
Estates that were once worth millions are systematically drained through massive over-billing, unreported expenses or outright theft. Homes in which wards have lived and raised a family for decades are seized and looted by the state. Guardian accountability and reporting requirements, inconsistent from state to state, are not properly followed or disregarded entirely.
Litigation costs for families are colossal and can stretch into years. When families try to seek help from local law enforcement, a city prosecutor, Attorney General or Department of Justice (DOJ) office, they’re sent packing.
Atty. Alan A. May
As part of the 1987 Associated Press investigation in Michigan, journalist Mark Fritz concluded that “Many of Michigan’s elderly people are being stripped of their homes, their incomes and their most basic rights under a misused and poorly monitored legal process that varies wildly in the state’s 83 counties.”
During a brief interview with Fritz, then–Southfield Michigan attorney Alan A. May admitted to “little personal contact” with his 400 wards.
“That is not a knock. That is a truth. There is very little visitation,” May said at the time.
May is currently a shareholder at the Troy, Michigan, law firm of Kemp Klein, a number of whose former attorneys have taken or presently take on cases at the Oakland County Probate Court, including Barbara Andruccioli, Jon B. Munger and Thomas Brennan Fraser.
All three have troubled pasts.
In November 2016, Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ journalist Heather Catallo launched a year- long investigation into Andruccioli and then–Macomb County Public Administrator Cecil St. Pierre, during which it was alleged that they had partnered with Utica, Michigan, realtor Ralph Roberts in order to open probate cases on deceased estates without notifying the next-of-kin.
Although not included in WXYZ’s investigation, in 2015 Munger was listed as a defendant in a lawsuit filed in Macomb County District Court in which it was alleged that he had been retained by Roberts to open up a probate case on the deceased estate of Helen Ann Adolph. According to the plaintiffs, Munger’s subsequent sale of Adolph’s home was not approved by the probate court.
Andruccioli and Munger were subsequently fired from their roles as public administrators by the Attorney General’s office. St. Pierre was suspended and then resigned.
To date, no criminal charges have been filed.
Munger is still accepting guardianship, conservatorship and deceased estate cases at the Oakland County Probate Court. Roberts and St. Pierre are also still in business. Without explanation, Andruccioli was hired by all four judges as the Oakland County Probate Court Register and paid the highest possible salary of $102,650.
In October 2017, WXYZ aired a short series looking into Fraser’s activities as guardian and conservator, highlighting the billing and treatment of his wards. Ex-Parte motions (emergency and temporary petitions and orders filed without notifying the opposing party) were entered with O’Brien in an attempt to stop the story and any images of the alleged victims’ faces. After an Emergency Appeal was filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals, WXYZ prevailed on First Amendment grounds.
Scorched Earth Litigation
In June 2018, the online national magazine Tablet published an investigation into Munger who, two years earlier, had been given guardianship and conservatorship over a then–92-year-old Oak Park, Michigan, woman Virginia Wahab.
Plaintiff Mimi Wahab Brun with her mother Virginia “Jean” Wahab. Mrs. Wahab passed away in April, 2019 after a two-year ordeal in the Lourdes Nursing Home, which held her against her will. Visits with her daughter were barred
The petition was filed with Oakland County Judge Linda S. Hallmark by a social worker for Lourdes Senior Community, the short-term nursing and rehabilitation center at which Wahab was receiving treatment. Lourdes sought the guardianship because of a $32,000 past-due-bill.
Michigan law does not provide for the use of a probate court as a collection agency.
During her more than two-year fight to regain custody of her mother, Wahab’s daughter Mimi Brun claimed she was denied visitation rights, had a warrant issued by Hallmark for her arrest and filed three reports with the local police department asserting that Munger had illegally entered her mother’s home and looted it.
After the story was published, a July 30, 2018 bench trial on Brun’s petition to terminate the guardianship and conservatorship of Munger was presided over by Hallmark. During a day-long deposition, Munger was asked how many times he had been appointed as a guardian.
“Several thousand,” he replied, but could not precisely cite the Michigan statute under which a guardian is considered necessary.
He admitted to entering Wahab’s home to look for “Information about ownership, assets, bills, any of the above” and to taking a painting that was hanging on Wahab’s wall.
“It’s very colorful. I walk around it every day in my office,” Munger noted. When asked if he had seen his ward lately, Munger replied, “In 2018, I doubt it.”
He also admitted that he hadn’t reviewed Wahab’s medical records since his first visit in 2016.
After a second day of testimony, the trial was adjourned. Before it could resume, Hallmark issued an August 3 opinion and order terminating Munger as guardian and conservator.
“Mr. Munger has satisfactorily provided care, control and custody of Ms. Wahab,” Hallmark wrote. “In all of these matters, Mimi Brun has interfered with Mr. Munger using misinformation, obfuscation and self-dealing. She has engaged in scorched earth litigation. Ms. Brun has demonstrated a complete lack of authority because she believes herself to be the victim.”
“The litigation in this matter has been ongoing for two years,” Hallmark concluded. “The financial and emotional costs to the ward have been significant. It is not in the ward’s best interests for the litigation to continue. Her assets have been depletedbut remain with the family.”
This was the pleasant Oak Park home and neighborhood Virginia Wahab was kidnapped from.
Wahab was returned to her Oak Park Home. She remained under Brun’s care until she passed away in April 2019.
One month later, Brun filed a lawsuit against Lourdes alleging that the facility falsely imprisoned and ransomed her mother. Lourdes has since filed a Motion to Dismiss and asked for punitive sanctions against Brun and her attorney. That case is presently pending.
The Consequences of Talking
Families claim there are very few Michigan attorneys who are willing to take their cases against an Oakland County Public Administrator, and that those who do charge retainers that are far out of a family’s reach.
The Oakland County Probate Court has a reputation that’s no secret to attorneys practicing Michigan estate and probate law. Those who agreed to talk about the court admitted to a pervasive fear of openly criticizing any of the four judges or Oakland County Public Administrators. The attorneys claim that making such a challenge, whether in court or in public, can lead to sanctions placed against them or the possible removal of their license by Michigan’s Attorney Discipline Board.
One attorney, who has defended wards and families in front of Hallmark and O’Brien, spoke on condition of anonymity and was given the alias “Paul.”
“I knew of one client who has been through 60 separate attorneys, none of whom would help her,” he says. “I’ve heard from clients whose previous attorneys were threatened.”
While threats do not deter him from taking on Oakland County Probate Court cases, there have been consequences.
Thomas Brennan Fraser
“The judges have been sanctioning me for no reason,” Paul asserts. “I had not been sanctioned in my entire career. I’m trying to enforce the law or the court rules, I always have my briefs filed and they don’t care. They don’t care about the law. They don’t care about the facts.”
“It doesn’t matter what it is—an accounting, a petition to enter a home—it’s the same,” he adds. “I’m the one who’s going to be punished because I’m challenging the judge’s appointees, who they are going to protect no matter what. It’s so obvious to me. Their appointees can’t do anything wrong no matter how egregious it is.”
Paul recalls a case in front of O’Brien during which he demonstrated proof that Thomas Brennan Fraser had committed fraud against his client.
“Judge O’Brien said, on the record, ‘Don’t ever mention that again!” he remembers. “He didn’t say why.”
“The duty of the court is to protect the ward,” Paul concludes. “These are standards that have been codified in writing, but they are breeched on a regular basis. The judges should know, for example, how many wards each public administrator has and, if they have too many, are responsible for finding somebody else. But the judges aren’t paying any attention.”
Wards in the Thousands
Four of the most prolific Oakland County guardians and conservators are Munger, Fraser and Oakland County Public Administrators Jennifer Carney and John Yun.
Between them, they have a total of 4,669 open and closed adult and developmentally disabled guardianship and conservatorship cases.
As of August 1, 2019, their combined open caseload was 1,704.
TOTAL NUMBER OF ADULT AND DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED GUARDIANSHIP AND CONSERVATORSHIP CASES– HISTORIC
TOTAL NO. ADULT AND DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED GUARDIANSHIP & CONSERVATORSHIP CASES CLOSED/ADJUDICATED
Under Michigan Statute, a guardian has a “Duty to make provision for the ward’s care, comfort, and maintenance and, when appropriate, arrange for the ward’s training and education.” A conservator must “Preserve assets and to expend them for the support, education, care, and benefit of the individual and his or her dependents.”
Can four individuals, each with a limited number of staff members, ensure that those duties are being adequately maintained?
“It’s not possible,” Paul says. “In Munger’s case, that’s why he doesn’t see his own wards, or he sends a staff member with no training at all. If you have 500 people and your interest is to get their home and pay yourself, why would you care about the ward? In my view, all he cares about are ‘where are her assets? How can I sell them? How much money can I get?’”
Public administrators who are assigned as guardians and/or conservators take their attorney and fiduciary fees out of a ward’s estate, with every action they make on the ward’s behalf—from making a phone call to listening to a voicemail—billed at an hourly rate. For example, Fraser bills at $245 per hour. Professional guardians also receive $83 per month per ward on Medicaid, which is taken out of the money received by a nursing facility. The Michigan Guardianship Association has consistently lobbied for an increase, claiming that $83-per-month is not enough given the gargantuan task of assuming the life of another person.
Paul says the responsibility is so enormous that guardians with more than 400 wards serve the guardians themselves rather than their wards.
“When you care for another human being, it’s all day, every day,” Paul asserts. “He also has a law practice and an office to run. He has a family life. So, where’s he going to find time to care for the ward? The guardians, themselves, have a duty, as an attorney under the Code of Professional Conduct, to say, “Look, I’ve got 500 people under my care, I’ve got four staff members in my law firm. I can’t take on any more clients. I can’t do [them] justice.”
Petitioning into the Fortress
According to the University of Michigan, “Courts view guardianships as a last resort because the ability of the person to make basic decisions about his or her care, treatment, or living arrangements is being taken away.”
It raises the question as to why Oakland County guardians and conservators have so many wards.
This investigation reviewed 2,278 open and closed cases belonging to Munger, Yun, Carney and Fraser presided over by Hallmark, O’Brien, Callaghan, Ryan and former Oakland County Probate Court Judge Elizabeth Pezzetti.
With two exceptions, each of the cases were the result of guardianship and conservatorship petitions filed by social workers or representatives of outside agencies, including APS investigators, the Senior Care Network, hospital and nursing facility social workers, attorneys and accounts receivables managers.
Of the petitions, the majority were filed by ten APS investigators.
The Senior Care Network is a care management organization. Among its services is assistance filing for guardianship and conservatorship, for which the organization utilizes a dedicated social worker, Matthew Martin.
The petitioner must note “Specific facts about the adult’s recent or condition or conduct” that leads to them to believe a guardian and/or conservator are needed.
In 95 percent of cases, petitioner answers were summarized in one or two vague sentences, or an attached paragraph, noting mental or physical ailments such as dementia, confusion, memory problems, bipolar, diabetes, depression, physical mobility and hoarding.
Other, less specific examples included:
“Mental health hinders ability to maintain employment and make informed decisions or manage her own finances.”
“Joint weakness and mobility issues in apartment. Has issues with hoarding.” “Altered mental status.”
“Non-engagement in mental health services.”
“Does not make sound decisions re: physical health and finances.” “He is declining medication. Lack of insight into his diagnosis.” “A lack of civilization.”
“Patient came in for dizziness and confusion. Incompetent to make decisions for medical care.”
“DPOA will not provide information needed for Medicaid application to nursing facility.” “Family has not paid facility bills and there are other outstanding bills.”
The overwhelming majority of petitions (98 percent) were not corroborated by any evidence, whether in the form of an official diagnosis from a doctor or a medical history.
The Powerless Power of Attorney
Probate Court petition
On the first page of the petition, there is an opportunity to identify any individuals the perspective ward identified in estate planning documents such as holders of a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) or Patient Advocacy Designation. According to Michigan statute, such an individual has priority over the appointment of a professional guardian or conservator.
Only 15 percent of petitions made note of anyone named in an estate planning document.
In those cases where such individuals were identified, they were either not present at the initial hearing, or the petitioner claimed they were unsuitable without offering any evidence to substantiate why. The presiding judge then tossed out or invalidated the documents, and guardianship and conservatorship was given to Munger, Yun, Fraser or Carney.
There were also cases in which the holder of a DPOA was also placed under guardianship.
In 2016, Martin and the Senior Care Network petitioned for the guardianship of a then–83-year- old Clarkston, Michigan, woman named Doreen who was a resident of a Lake Orion long-term care facility.
The petition noted her husband Ralph as the holder of her DPOA and added, “DPOA will not provide information necessary for Medicaid App. to nursing facility.”
Presiding Judge Hallmark gave temporary guardianship of Doreen to Carney.
One month later, while Doreen’s full guardianship case was pending, Carney petitioned for guardianship of Ralph, stating that he had “Difficulty with memory and comprehension” and added that his Veteran’s Administration benefits needed to be managed.
Hallmark ultimately gave guardianship of Ralph to Fraser.
The Missing Family
Page two of the guardianship petition includes an available box in which to list any of the ward’s known family members. Like the holders of a DPOA, family members have statutory priority over the appointment of a professional guardian.
In 65 percent of occasions where none was noted on a petition, the ward did, in fact, turn out to have a family.
Such was the case of a then 69-year-old Pontiac woman named Cynthia. In the petition for guardianship, an APS investigator alleged that Cynthia suffered from “three strokes, psychosis mania, expressive aphissa [sic] and is often paranoid that people are after her.”
While acknowledging that Cynthia did have a married couple who held her Power of Attorney, the investigator noted that they weren’t “Able to assist her anymore.” The box notating families was referred to the “Attorney General.”
Similarly, a three-paragraph report filed by Cynthia’s Guardian ad Litem insisted that she “Has no family and lives alone.”
However, Cynthia had an adult daughter, Heidi who filed a petition to terminate her mother’s guardianship three months after O’Brien had assigned Carney to the position.
In an accompanying brief, Heidi stated that she had not been not served the initial petition or any notice prior to her mother’s guardianship hearing. Why neither APS nor the Guardian ad Litem identified the fact that Cynthia had family is unknown.
Suitably Trained Investigators?
Such glaring errors in a petition, alongside claims of incapacity made without corroborating medical evidence, raise the question as to whether social workers, such as APS investigators, have been properly trained before conducting an investigation of a potential adult ward.
Dr. Peter Lichtenberg, PhD., is a Clinical Geropsychologist, Professor of Psychology at Detroit’s Wayne State University and Director of the Institute of Gerontology.
Dr. Peter Lichtenberg with older clients at WSU Institute of Gerontology.
“I’ve been working very closely with APS supervisors and staff over the last four years,” he says. “I found that, like all people who enter the caring profession, there’s a lot of talent and skill. There are huge caseload burdens. Often, [investigators] come from Child Protective Services [CPS] or domestic violence. So, they’re coming in at a deficit in terms of understanding geriatric issues.”
“It takes a lot of experience and it takes a team approach,” he adds. “Unfortunately, these workers are out there investigating a case under a time pressure and by themselves.”
In a 2016 petition for the guardianship of a then–88-year-old Korean War veteran named Raymond, an APS investigator claimed that he “Suffers from memory loss. He is not able to manage medications. He is not able to handle his daily living skills.”
However, according to Raymond’s Guardian ad Litem, his attending nurse stated that “She did not understand why APS was involved in this case or why an emergency petition was filed. It is [her] professional opinion that there is not a need for an emergency appointment of a guardian.”
Presiding Judge Ryan did not concur and appointed Carney.
The Guardian ad Litem
Seventy percent of cases reviewed began with an Emergency Petition for Guardianship.
This meant that Yun, Munger, Carney or Fraser were appointed to the role of temporary guardian on the same day the petition was filed or shortly afterwards. Coinciding emergency petitions for conservatorship have also been granted. The prospective ward was neither given notice nor an explanation of their rights under Michigan law before being placed under their control.
Gaurdian Ad Litem report that notes client does NOT want guardian and wants to know how to petition to remove the guardian.
Ordinarily, those rights are explained to the prospective ward during a personal visit from a GAL.
They include the right to contest the petition, to be present at the hearing, to be represented by legal counsel and to request limits on the guardian’s powers.
William Spern, atty. GAL
In a written report, which must be filed no later than 24 hours prior to a guardianship hearing, the GAL is instructed to note whether there are alternatives to the appointment of a full guardian, if the proposed ward wishes to exercise their right to contest the petition and be present at the hearing, or whether there are any objections to the execution of a DNR. The report should conclude with a GAL’s recommendations, either for the appointment of a guardian and/or conservator, or for a contested hearing.
In 100 percent of the 2,278 cases reviewed, the GAL was an estate or probate attorney with no discernable psychological or medical background.
Nevertheless, GAL reports—which varied anywhere from a five-page, detailed investigation to a few paragraphs to no narrative at all—included the GAL’s own determination of a potential ward’s incapacity.
In numerous cases, a GAL concurred with a guardianship petition, claiming that the proposed ward had some form of dementia or memory impairment, if they could not answer one or all of four questions pertaining to the date, their birthday, the day of the week and the name of the US President.
“Nobody can ask four questions and determine whether someone has capacity or not,” Dr.
Lichtenberg says. “Ideally, [a GAL] would join forces with somebody who has a background like mine where they would get a good assessment of cognitive strengths, weaknesses, mental health problems and try to apply those to the legal standards.”
Objecting but Not Present
Curiously, in 97 percent of the occasions when a potential ward emphatically voiced objections to a guardianship, the GAL also claimed that the individual waived their right to be present at the guardianship hearing.
A Director of Nursing for multiple long-term care nursing facilities for over two decades, “Gladys” requested an alias be used.
“We have patients and residents who come in who have Medicare, which provides for a 20-day stay at a long-term facility,” she says. “If they are still in need of care, you will see a petition go out for temporary guardianship. The [GAL] will visit for all of five minutes, if that. They will say they are from the court and ask me or a nurse caring for the patient to sign off on their visit.”
“Half the time, the patient may not know what’s going on because they don’t tell the patient anything,” she adds. “After a visit, I’ve gone in and asked the patient, ‘What did they say?’ The patient tells me, ‘I don’t know, they said they were a lawyer.’ Then, I say, “Did they ask you anything?’ and the patient says, ‘No.’”
Gladys emphasizes that “A lot of times, [GALs] don’t even see the patient because the patient is in physical therapy and they don’t want to wait that long.”
Even when the GAL recommends a contested hearing or, on rare occasions that the petition be denied, it does not mean an individual targeted for guardianship is out of the woods, something particularly true in cases involving APS.
When a contested hearing is recommended, the presiding judge orders an Independent Medical Examination (IME) to be conducted on the prospective ward and appoints legal counsel. The court has published a roster of 14 Michigan-based psychologists who “Have expressed interest in doing independent evaluations for Oakland County Court proceedings.”
However, in 97 percent of IME orders reviewed, only three doctors were regularly used, as well as one attorney who also is a “limited-license psychologist.” The results of these examinations are not made part of the public record. Judges such as Ryan have consistently ordered them to be “Faxed directly to chambers.”
Meanwhile APS invariably lawyered-up in advance of the hearing.
One of the attorneys they typically use, Heidi Aull, is employed by former public administrator Cecil St. Pierre, who resigned from the position in 2017 after WXYZ’s investigation into the opening of deceased estates without notifying next of kin. APS has also been represented by a lawyer assigned from the Michigan Attorney General’s office.
The ward, on the other hand, is usually provided legal counsel from the same pool as the Oakland County GALs.
Contested hearings involving APS always resulted in guardianship.
A 2015 petition filed by an APS investigator against a then-84-year-old White Lake, Michigan, woman named Betty asserted that the “Proposed ward’s spouse died in 2013. No children. Home is paid off. No other family. Ward has signed papers and doesn’t remember what she signed. Doesn’t always know what she has done with her money.”
Betty’s GAL reported to the court that she was “A pleasure to spend time with, knows what is going on with her money and where it goes. [Betty] is doing exactly what she wants with her environment and I argue on her behalf that [neither] this Honorable Court nor the Department of Human Services-Adult Protective Services should intrude in it.”
Presiding Judge O’Brien ordered a contested hearing for which APS retained a Special Assistant Attorney General.
After the hearing, O’Brien appointed Fraser as Betty’s full guardian. Two months later, Betty wrote a letter to the judge.
“I am sorry to report that I have [had] no word from Mr. Fraser since he first advised me he was my full guardian,” she asserted. “I don’t know if I get an allowance. I have a small dollar amount in my account I assume is no longer mine. I’m lost. My medications come in the mail and have not been forwarded to me. I need them! Please advise me what to do.”
By 2018, Fraser had moved Betty to a nursing home. In an account the public administrator filed that year, between patient pay and his own legal fees, he had spent all but $367 of Betty’s annual $20,000 social security income.
Guardianship and conservatorship cases at Oakland County rarely have a happy ending. With few attorneys willing to take on their cases at an affordable rate, families often enter the Oakland County Probate Court unrepresented by an attorney (pro se). Since these are civil cases, the family does not have access to a public defender and, they claim, legal aid organizations are either unresponsive or unwilling to assist.
Without knowing their rights under Michigan statute or all 61-pages-worth of Michigan court procedures, families enter hearings at a marked disadvantage and without a clue as to what to expect.
Requests for interviews concerning the Oakland County Probate Court made by this investigation to legal aid organizations, both inside and outside the county, went unanswered. The Detroit office of the ACLU declined without noting a reason.
In numerous cases observed over successive Motion Days, although Ryan at least attempted a modicum of empathy, families appearing pro se were bullied and berated by Callaghan,
Hallmark and O’Brien, who not only held families to the same standard as the public administrators but, in some cases, gave them far less latitude.
For example, at no time was a public administrator admonished for being late for a hearing.
Nancy Haddock’s eventual fate as ward.
Conversely, family members who do not appear on time can lose their case because of it. When they push back, they are threatened with Contempt of Court or the judge calls in the Oakland County sheriffs who threaten removal and/or arrest.
Catherine Haddock, the daughter of 76-year-old Yun ward Nancy Haddock, states that, before the first hearing on her 2016 petition for the guardianship and conservatorship of her mother, a member of Hallmark’s staff warned her that Hallmark would never allow Catherine to be a conservator owing to bankruptcy on her public record.
She says she was encouraged to accept a public administrator instead.
While such a determination by Hallmark falls under judicial discretion, court records show that Carney filed for Chapter Seven Bankruptcy in December 2010.
The Fight of Their Lives
Pauline in her 20’s/Family photo
Once a guardianship and/or conservatorship case against an individual is set into motion, both the wards and their families end up in the fight of their lives.
Since the case is still in litigation, the niece of a Bloomfield Hills woman, who was placed under Carney’s guardianship in January 2018, asked that both she and her aunt be identified using an alias.
According to her niece Marie, Pauline was born in 1922 in a small town in the Kentucky Appalachians. Orphaned during the Depression, she was separated from her siblings and sent to stay with relatives in Michigan.
Pauline graduated high school early and had been a secretary at the Dearborn “Glass House” headquarters of the Ford Motor Company for only a year before she was selected, out of 300 of her peers, to become the first female Executive Secretary to the company’s Vice President.
She fell in love with and married a local businessman who surprised her by purchasing a lot in Bloomfield Hills and building a magnificent home upon it. Pauline’s husband died of a sudden heart attack in 1973. The couple had no children, and a heartbroken Pauline never remarried but lived alone in the home they built together until 2018.
As Marie grew up, she and her aunt became “Extremely close, like a mother and daughter,” Marie says. “She was vibrant, proud of where she came from and where she ended up and she was very independent. Even in 2017, she was raking her own leaves.”
However, by January 2018 and at the age of 96, macular degeneration left Pauline partially blind. According to Marie, she was also prone to bouts of anxiety.
The Life-Altering Phone Call
Pauline prior to guardianship/Family photo
Since Pauline’s vision left her unable to dial her phone accurately, Marie recalls that “One early morning, my aunt crossed the street to ask a neighbor [to] call her friend. Another neighbor drove by and saw her and called the police. The neighbor told the police that she found Pauline wandering the streets. That just wasn’t true.”
Pauline was transported by the police to St. Joseph’s Mercy hospital and diagnosed with a Urinary Tract Infection. At the time, Marie was still living in Kentucky.
On March 2, 2018, Martin and the Senior Care Network filed an emergency petition for guardianship in the Oakland County Probate Court against Pauline. It made no mention of any family and specifically requested Carney as Pauline’s guardian. She was appointed as a temporary guardian by presiding Judge Hallmark at a March 7 hearing.
Neither Marie nor Pauline were present.
However, Pauline certainly understood that something had happened to her involving the court. On the day Carney was assigned, Pauline called her niece in a tearful panic begging her to come to Michigan immediately. Marie then reached out to Carney’s office and spoke with an assistant.
Oakland Co. Public Administator Jennifer Carney.
“I told her that I had stayed with my aunt for 20 months when she had gallbladder surgery, that I was perfectly happy to take care of her again and that my aunt wanted me to,” Marie says. “But I was told that [Carney] needed to do some more investigation. All Carney had to do was run a background check on me and tell the court that I was willing to look after my aunt, but she didn’t consider any of that. Carney had made up her mind that she was going to be my aunt’s guardian and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Medicaid and Medilodge
In Michigan, an unmarried person does not qualify for long-term Medicaid assistance if they have over $2,000 in countable assets (cash, stocks, bonds, investments, credit union, savings, and checking accounts).
Inventories filed by Carney in May and June 2018 listed Pauline’s assets as a $307,580 home, a 2003 Jaguar, which the public administrator valued at $3,900, a $73,313.30 checking account balance and $11,124.96 in shares. According to Carney’s own accounting, only one day after she had been appointed as temporary guardian, she charged Pauline’s estate $84 to “Prepare and submit [an] initial Medicaid application.”
Carney’s office subsequently received notification from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) stating that Pauline had been approved for Medicaid benefits that were also retroactive.
As soon as Marie arrived at her aunt’s hospital bedroom, she called Carney’s office again. This time, she was able to get the public administrator on the phone.
“I told her that I wanted to take my aunt home,” Marie recalls. “She told me, ‘No, you can’t do that. We’re going to put her in Medilodge until we get it straightened out. I didn’t know anything about the place.”
Calling itself a “leading provider of long-term skilled nursing care and short-term rehabilitation solutions,” Medilodge operates at least 50 facilities across Michigan, and not all with flyingcolors.
In 2017, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) determined seven deficiencies at the Medilodge facility in Southfield that included inadequate records of food served at the facility, medical equipment stored in patient shower rooms and an untrained staff member. A FOIA request to the MDHHS revealed that, between 2016 and 2018, Medilodge of Southfield received almost $30 million in patient Medicaid disbursements.
It was in that facility’s lockdown ward that Carney told Marie she was placing her aunt. Marie had to break the news to Pauline in her St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital room the night before she was to be discharged to Medilodge.
‘She started crying, shaking, she was having an anxiety attack,” Marie recalls. “She’d never lived anywhere else but her home. She didn’t want people undressing her and taking her belongings.”
When Marie saw the facility herself, she says, “I just died inside.”
“The place was a dump,” she adds. “It smelt horrible. My aunt was sharing a small room with someone else. She didn’t want me to leave her there, so I laid down next to her.”
Injuries to Pauline’s back after fall at Medilodge.
At 2 am, the facility director told Marie to leave. Even though she always stayed at Pauline’s home whenever she visited, Marie said that Carney was emphatic in forbidding her to do so and had changed the locks to the house.
Tossed out of Medilodge and with nowhere to go, Marie spent a sleepless night parked in a Walmart lot worried sick about her aunt. The following day, she received a call from Medilodge informing her that there had been an “incident” involving Pauline. Marie rushed to see her.
“My aunt had contusions on her head, bruises on her chest and arms. It looked really bad,” Marie says. “She told me that her roommate had come up behind her, hit her and shoved her down. Her head hit the metal heater in the room. The cut on her head never healed.”
“Carney told me it was not a big deal,” Marie remembers. “I said, ‘It’s a big deal to me!’”
After more incidents at Medilodge, Marie decided enough was enough and began to call attorneys across Oakland County. No one would take her case.
“They told me that if a judge had assigned someone as a guardian in Oakland County, there was nothing I could do,” she states.
Marie began to do her own research. Armed with a little more knowledge, she filed petitions to replace Carney with herself as Pauline’s guardian and conservator. Pauline told her GAL that she wanted her niece to serve. Under Michigan statute, Marie therefore had priority over Carney and, in his report, the GAL recommended that Marie’s petitions should be granted.
Patient at Medilodge does not look happy to be there, but Medilodge put this photo on their website.
But, on April 25, shortly before they were to go up in front of Hallmark, Marie says that the GAL approached her with some disturbing news.
“He told me that Carney was willing to accept me as a co-guardian but that she was going to be the conservator,” Marie recalls. “Carney also told him that, if I fought her on it, she would make sure my aunt stayed a nursing home for another six weeks.”
Terrified that Carney would make good on her threats, Marie agreed to her terms. As co- guardian, Marie was finally able to gain access to Pauline’s home. While she was getting it ready for her aunt, there was a knock on the door.
“It was a man with a tow-truck,” Marie says. “He said he was there to take my aunt’s car.” A May 2 entry in Carney’s account authorized the removal of Pauline’s Jaguar.
As soon as she returned to Michigan, Marie took Pauline out of Medilodge and brought her home. For the approximately 42 days Pauline was a Medilodge resident, Carney charged her estate a total of $12,708.00 in patient pay expenses.
Petition, Argue, Repeat
For reasons then unknown to Marie, Carney would not let go of the conservatorship.
“She said, ‘I will never give up conservatorship to you,’” Marie recalls. ‘She didn’t say why.” At a hearing on July 11, Hallmark dismissed Marie’s petition to have Carney replaced.
“The judge didn’t listen to me,” Marie recalls. “She wasn’t mean to me, but she went with Carney’s recommendations every time.”
“I talked to some people at the court clerk’s office,” she adds. “They told me it wouldn’t do me any good to get an attorney.”
When a home health nurse visited Pauline, she was shocked when she saw the list of medications Medilodge had been giving her.
“They had her on psychotic drugs, why?’ Marie wonders. “All she had was a UTI. The nurse even agreed with me that there was no way my aunt was incompetent.”
Marie filed again and, when she went back to court for the fourth time, Carney doubled down.
“She said that she wasn’t comfortable with me being guardian or conservator,” Marie asserts. “Since I lived with my aunt and didn’t pay rent, she called it a ‘conflict of interest’. Then, she told me I would need to move out and get my own place before she would consider allowing my petitions to go ahead.”
Before the hearing, Marie asked Carney about her mother’s Jaguar.
“She first looked at me like she didn’t know what I was talking about,” Marie says. “Then she told me that she had sold it.”
“I knew that, the longer me and my aunt remained in Oakland County, the greater the chances that she was going to end up broke, she adds. “If that happened, Carney would sell her house.”
So, Marie came up with a plan to move Pauline back to Kentucky. She petitioned again to have Carney removed and Pauline returned to her care and, this time, included a letter to Hallmark summarizing the case, Pauline’s medical records and statements of support from neighbors and nurses.
Her petition was heard on the Motion Day of August 8, 2018, and was observed as part of this investigation. Whether it was because of the attendance of the press, Marie’s relentlessness or a combination of both, the judge suddenly relented and returned complete custody of Pauline back to her niece.
“I was in shock,” Marie says.
When Hallmark clarified that she was also terminating Carney’s conservatorship, the public administrator turned on her heels and stormed out of the courtroom. In her final accounting, Carney asserted that the “Court granted petitions allowing me to resign.”
According to that account, in just five months, she had blown through almost $50,000 of Pauline’s money.
One income line item noted a “$200 gain from the sale of automobile. ” Exactly how much Carney sold the Jaguar for and to whom is unknown. Carney’s account did not include any record of the sale.
It took Marie months to undo every action Carney had taken since she was given control of Pauline’s life. She and Marie went back to Kentucky together. It was in the state she was born that Pauline passed away in August 2018.
“She’d lost so much weight at the nursing home, she just couldn’t bounce back,” Marie recalls through tears. “It was all so unnecessary. If Jennifer Carney had gone by the law, or morality or listened to anything I had to say… All I can say to anyone who is going through this is to just keep fighting in any way you can.”
Gretchen Rachel Hammond is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist based out of Chicago. Her work has won or been nominated for four successive Chicago Press Club awards, been recognized by the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Journalists (NLGJA), and covered topics such as criminal justice, abuse at ICE detention facilities, and alleged discrimination on the part of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services leading to the unnecessary separation of children from their parents.
Other VOD stories on state terrorism against elders, families and children include many on world-renowned hero the late Maryanne Godboldo, who fought off a SWAT-team attack on her Detroit home in 2011 during which CPS kidnapped and forcibly medicated her 13-year-old daughter.
Godboldo died of a massive brain aneurysm the night before Wayne Co. Prosecutor Kym Worthy scheduled a THIRD criminal trial against her in 2016. Two Judges twice threw out the same charges. Ms. Godboldo and her family carried out a years-long battle in juvenile and criminal courts, winning the release of Godboldo’s daughter to her family. They continue Maryanne’s battle on behalf of other state victims to this day.
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Macomb County rampant with corruption from top to bottom.
Saad Akram Bahoda targeted by Macomb AP Jorij Fedorak, now serving life for self-defense, tacked onto completed parolable life case; MDOC photo shows dignity
Saad Bahoda case preceded frame-up of Detroit businessman George Rider
AP Jorji Fedorak, married to ATF agent, prosecuted both Bahoda, Rider
Bahoda over-charged while on parole from now illegal 650 lifer sentence
VOD staff writer Ricardo Ferrell
BY RICARDO FERRELL
VOD Staff Writer
Further research, editing by Diane Bukowski
August 1, 2019
After decades of hearings and court proceedings held within Macomb County Courts, the level of corruption continues, causing many to wonder if any real justice will ever prevail for defendants, or be equally applied among those sworn to administer it.
Police agencies from cities like Shelby Township, Warren, Roseville, Mt. Clemens, Clinton Township, and Eastpointe continue to investigate and pursue trumped up cases in order to clear their books of numerous felonies.
The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, in past years headed by former Prosecutor Carl Marlinga, wasn’t exempt from scandal and corruption either, but Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has continued and expanded the level of corruption since his election. He remains in office despite an ongoing federal investigation into his alleged embezzlement of public funds.
In 2011, Saad Bahoda was arrested by Shelby Township Police and overcharged by Smith’s office with Assault With Intent to Commit Murder for a minor altercation, which actually was self-defense, and if anything, only amounted to a simple fight.
Sahara Mediterranean Grill in Shelby, MI has been closed since last year. Shelby is 91 percent white.
On or about August 27, 2011, while attending a birthday party for his 17 year-old niece at the Sahara Restaurant located in Shelby, a fight broke out that involved Bahoda’s nephew who was only 18 years-old. Someone entered the restaurant and told Saad that his nephew Dylan needed him outside. Bahoda exited the restaurant after hearing his nephew might be in danger.
Witnesses testified at trial that Bahoda came out of the restaurant and broke up an altercation involving his nephew. Moments later nearly 35 individuals converged on him and his sister, who began swinging her purse to help her brother. Bahoda pushed his sister out of harm’s way and continued to ward off the mob attack. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pocket knife that he used at his job cutting zip ties and stopped the altercation. Everyone left.
Bahoda soon after exited the Sweet Jane Hookah Lounge where he was confronted by a group of three. They aggressively come after Bahoda in what he perceived as an attack. He again pulled his pocket knife and instinctively tried to get the three attackers off by raising the knife, which struck the complainant on the neck.
Notorious Macomb County Jail
Bahoda was held in the Macomb County Jail for TWO YEARS awaiting trial, as were George Rider, Marcie Griffith, and Eric Griffin. He didn’t make bail due to having a detainer from the MDOC. He had been paroled two years prior after serving 21 years for a 1990 life sentence on a 650 Lifer drug sentence, later outlawed as racially discriminatory.
Bahoda won a 1995 state Court of Appeals decision exonerating him in the 65o lifer drug case based on claims of prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutor used the terms “Arab,” “Arab connection,” and “Iraqi” at a trial conducted during the Persian Gulf War. He also threatened two witnesses with life sentences if they did not testify truthfully, and another with deportation. Finally, he allegedly injected a “civic duty” argument, expressed a personal opinion about defendant’s guilt, and used denigrating terms to describe Bahoda.
Retired MCCC Judge Thomas Brookover was replaced by Rider’s judge Suzanne Faunce, whose father and sister are also judges.
The prosecutor’s office vigorously pursued Bahoda after learning he was out on parole. The jury trial before retired visiting Judge Thomas Brookover was prosecuted by none other than Jurij Fedorak, the same Assistant Prosecutor in the Rider, Griffin, & Gibson case. He’s known for using shady tactics to obtain convictions. He is married to a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent, Vera Fedorak as well.
Bahoda’s trial, like the Rider trial, had similar problems with Conflict of Interest, Questionable Conduct, and Improper Argument. The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office knew the Bahoda case was nothing more than an instance of self-defense, as the facts surrounding the case showed.
Throughout the court proceedings and trial, Bahoda made it known to his attorneys that an evidentiary hearing was needed to sort out the many injustices in the case, involving conflicts of interest. Those conflicts included the fact that Bahoda earlier consulted Atty. Brian Legghio in an effort to retain him, but that later Legghio represented witness Natalie Allie who testified against him. Atty. Steven Kaplan later represented Bahoda but failed to object to that conflict of interest.
The late Robert Berg Jr., Bahoda’s defense attorney, was a longtime confidant of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young,
Mr. Bahoda’s subsequent trial attorney Robert Berg Jr. did employ the services of J.P. Carey Consulting, Inc., a well respected and reliable polygraph examination firm.
On April 19, 2012, at 8:14am, a polygraph examination was conducted on Saad Akram Bahoda at the Macomb County Jail. The results and findings by Mr. Carey indicated the following: “The subject’s polygrams contained no consistent specific physiological responses indicative of salience on relevant issue questions. After analysis of the subject’s polygrams, based on case facts available, it is this examiner’s opinion that the subject was truthful on the test issue.”
While Carl Marlinga represented Mr. Fedorak as his attorney, he filed a motion asking for Fedorak to recuse himself due to another conflict of interest, but the motion was not upheld and Marlinga shortly afterwards withdrew from the case.
Fedorak was able to obtain information by way of the portrayed conflict of interest between Brian Legghio and Bahoda. As an officer of the court, Fedorak should have disqualified himself so as not to have the appearance of being biased or interjecting an improper prosecutorial maneuver. In addition, Fedorak, along with another of Bahoda’s attorneys Daniel Rust both collaborated and conspired to sabotage Bahoda’s Ginther hearing in an effort to cover up the conflict of interest between Fedorak and Legghio.
Based on the above conflicts of interests, ineffective assistance of counsel, disregard for the interest of justice, overcharging by prosecutor’s office, injustices and inequities in applying the law, and total disregard of an obvious self-defense claim by defendant Saad Bahoda, all caused the resumption of Bahoda’s unfair and illegal life sentence. In other words, he was out on parole after serving 21 years on a sentence that basically was ruled illegal when Michigan drug laws changed in 1998 and 2003.
In addition to the numerous delays cited in part in this chart, Bahoda’s judge allowed at least half a dozen attorneys to withdraw from the case on uncited grounds.
Bahoda earlier won a state Court of Appeals decision exonerating him in the 65o lifer drug case based on claims of prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutor used the terms “Arab,” “Arab connection,” and “Iraqi” at a trial conducted during the Persian Gulf War. He also threatened two witnesses with life sentences if they did not testify truthfully, and another with deportation. Finally, he allegedly injected a civic duty argument, expressed a personal opinion about defendant’s guilt, and used denigrating terms to describe Bahoda.
But that COA decision was later overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court.
The parolable life sentence to which Saad was sentenced to in 1990, is now in 2019 being used to hold him beyond the new 3 to 15 years term he received on the Shelby Township incident. The bottom line is, Eric Smith’s office vigorously pursued what amounts to an act of self-defense and turned it into the highest charge possible – Assault w/i to Commit Murder.
It’s blatantly obvious the Macomb County Prosecutors Office wanted to continue punishing Mr. Bahoda because of his drug conviction and parole status. The fact that the ‘650 Life’ was deemed illegal and unfair should have prompted a different outcome as it relates to the overcharge in the first place of something, if anything only amounted to a fight, or simple assault, a 90 day misdemeanor, which means Mr. Bahoda wouldn’t be back in prison serving an illegal life sentence.
The ‘650 life’ term meant anyone convicted of possession or delivering 650 grams or more of a controlled substance were automatically given life without parole sentences, which were changed to parolable life as a result of litigation and the Foster-Bey civil lawsuit covering some 850 parolable lifers.
The newly passed federal First Step Act in the Criminal Justice Reform packet allows for 3,000 such offenders to be considered for immediate release. See https://www.firststepact.org/about.
(Illustration courtesy of FirstStepAct.org)
The U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and President Trump have all strongly suggested that states should follow suit and implement their own versions of the First Step Act, which would mean the handful of 650 lifers in Michigan would be released, and so should Saad Bahoda, who is the real victim in the Shelby Township case. In retrospect he was only trying to protect his nephew, sister and himself from imminent harm and/or danger.
Saad has now served virtually eight additional years on a sentence that has long been deemed illegal. In the interest of fundamental fairness and the interest of justice, Saad Bahoda should not have to serve the rest of life in prison for a drug conviction that’s nearly 30 years old. Altogether Saad has served nearly three decades on the same life sentence.
What sense does it make to have someone who was trying to do the right thing to serve the same life sentence twice?
Writer’s final note:The Bahoda case has striking similarities to that of the Rider, Griffin and Gibson case (see story below). The same Prosecutor and AP’s were involved where there were instances of conflict of interest, and repeated denial of valid and meritorious motions by Judges Brookover and Suzanne Faunce. Assist. Prosecutor Jurji Fedorak vindictively pursued defendants despite the lack of evidence to support the charges and used the prestige of his office to obtain a conviction.
Macomb Co. Pros. Eric Smith
Macomb Co. AP Jurij Fedorak
This racist and corrupt county must be stopped and held accountable; that means the corrupt judges who have shown their disregard for justice in their courtrooms, as well as Chief Prosecutor Eric Smith and his corrupt underling Jurij Fedorak, and police agencies in cities like, Warren, Roseville, Clinton Township, Harrison Township, and Shelby Township, should be put on trial instead.
UPDATE 8/19/09: U.S. Reps. Omar, Tlaib, supporters condemn Trump, U.S. support of Israel, white supremacy; call for end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, travel restrictions
“Thank you for hearing me, thank you for seeing me, thank you for loving me. And thank you for allowing me to be not just your Congresswoman, but also a granddaughter of a grandmother living under occupation.”–Tlaib
Tlaib says she and grandmother decided mutually to forego reunion on West Bank due to limitation of Tlaib’s right to speak
August 16, 2019
By JVP ACTION
DETROIT, MI–Dozens of members of Detroit’s Jewish community and allies gathered at sundown in Pallister Park to observe a Shabbat service with Rep. Rashida Tlaib. As the Shabbat candles were lit, and prayers and poetry recited, Detroit’s Jewish community and allies stood together listening to Rep. Tlaib describe the hardships she faced this week and her commitment to keep fighting for justice.
VOD–this event strongly contradicted Donald Trump’s assertion that Tlaib and the three other congresswomen known as the “Squad” hate Jews and the people of Israel, as well as the people of their own country, the U.S. In comments widely recognized as racist, Trump told them to “go back home” although all were born in the U.S. and were duly elected by nearly three million constituents in their districts. They also represent a broader population of oppressed women of color across the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Speaking with passion and through her tears, Representative Rashida Tlaib said: “I cannot tell you how much love I feel here… Thank you for lifting up peace, love and justice…I’m proud of my Palestinian roots, and I’m also strong because I grew up in the most beautiful, blackest city in the country, in the city of Detroit.”
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib and supporters form a prayer circle in Pallister Park Aug. 16, 2019.
Rep. Tlaib continued: “I can’t wait to show my grandmother how I was supported by all of you – it would bring her so much joy. One day we’re going to be able to hear the voices of people like my grandmother, who have not been truly seen or heard… And so, today, thank you for hearing me, thank you for seeing me, thank you for loving me. And thank you for allowing me to be not just your Congresswoman, but also a granddaughter of a grandmother living under occupation.”
Yesterday, Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were banned from entering Israel, due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement for Palestinian rights. The Israeli government’s decision was encouraged by President Trump. Although Israel announced it would allow Tlaib to enter Israel on a humanitarian basis to visit her family – including her grandmother – such permission was contingent upon her agreeing to censor herself politically. As Tlaib said in her statement: “I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out. I will not allow the Israeli government to take away our hope.”
“You’re a United States Congresswoman–we wanted to celebrate you, but there’ll be a dark cloud over you.”–Tlaib’s relatives
Beth Miller, Jewish Voice for Peace Action – Government Affairs Manager: “We are in awe of Rep. Tlaib’s courage and stand by her. It’s heartbreaking that Rashida had to spend this evening with us instead of her beloved family. And it’s enraging that the Israeli government would hold a Member of Congress’s family hostage unless she agrees to censor herself. For as long as it’s existed, the Israeli government has forced these kinds of heart wrenching and impossible choices on Palestinians. It’s time for all of us to insist our elected officials hold Israel accountable.”
JVP Action Organizer Reuben Telushkin:“In celebrating Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, we are invited to also imagine the world we want to see. At the end of this difficult week, we’re grateful for Rashida’s steadfast leadership working toward the vision of a world with freedom and equality for all people.”
JVP Action Supporter Barbara Harvey: “We know what Rashida’s values are, because she has served our community so well for years – during her three terms in the Michigan legislature and now in Congress. This community remembers her love for all of us and her passionate commitment to us and to justice for all. We will have her back as long as she is willing to serve.”
Sharon Feldman talks about conditions in Palestine
Detroit Atty. Jerome Goldberg supports Tlaib, Palestine
JVP Action is an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(4) organization formed as the political and advocacy arm of Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP Action is building a multi-racial, intergenerational movement of Jews and allies to transform U.S. policy towards justice in Israel/Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 500,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.
MEET RASHIDA TLAIB’S GRANDMA: ‘WHO WOULDN’T BE PROUD OF A GRANDDAUGHTER LIKE THAT?’
Muftiyah Tlaib, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother, was interviewed by the Washington Post on Aug. 16, the same day as the Shabbat was held. They have not seen each other for 10 years, but Tlaib said that her grandmother swore to her that she would not die until she sees her beloved granddaughter. Phot0: Washington Post
BEIT UR AL-FAUQA, WEST BANK — Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother does not understand why her granddaughter, a sitting U.S. congresswoman, could not visit her as originally planned.
Muftiyah Tlaib — who says she is somewhere between 85 and her early 90s — lives in the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, about 15 miles outside Jerusalem and close to the seam line between Israel and the West Bank, territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 war and that Palestinians hope to see as part of an independent state someday.
BEIT UR AL-FAUQA, WEST BANK
She lives in the same elegant limestone house in the same sleepy village she has called home since 1974 — the house where the whole village once came to celebrate Rashida Tlaib’s wedding, and the house that looks directly onto an Israeli settlement with a visible military presence.
“When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions,” Tlaib tweeted. “I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.”
“Silencing me and treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
Tlaib has previously lent her support to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which Israel sees as increasingly threatening. Her positions have earned her the ire of pro-Israel advocacy groups and also of some of her Democratic colleagues in Congress.
But the quiet village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, and specifically the view from Tlaib’s grandmother’s house, sheds at least some light on the force of her convictions.
Map shows Beit Ur al-Fauqa surrounded by Israel’s restrictive zones.
A major highway now cuts directly through land the family says it once owned, Muftiyah Tlaib said, a thoroughfare that has altered the family’s access to olive groves and fig trees they still keep.
“It’s hard for me to reach my land on the other side,” she said. “I used to cross by walking, but once a woman was hit by a car.”
For Ashraf Samara, the head of the village council, Israel’s action toward the congresswoman is a window into the lived experience of the military occupation of the West Bank.
Rashida Tlaib’s relatives gather oustide home in Beit Ur Al-Fauqa
“This is all very strange for the media,” he said in an interview, noting that he had met Rashida Tlaib about 20 years ago. “But not for me as a Palestinian because I know the reality of occupation.”
Samara said he appreciated that Tlaib and Omar had begun to challenge traditional American bipartisan support of Israel.
“What I can say about Rashida and Omar is that they are starting to knock on the door and say something is wrong. Hopefully in the future they will change something in the opinions of ordinary American people.”
“I am proud of her,” the grandmother said of her granddaughter. “Who wouldn’t be proud of a granddaughter like that? I love her and am so proud of her.”
House Democrats weigh action against US and Israel ambassadors over banned visit
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George Rider, Marcie Griffith, Eric Griffin sentenced to LWOP July 31 in 2017 murder of Oak Park woman Julii Johnson in Warren
In sentencing statement not published by mainstream media, Rider says the three did not even know each other, calls case a “legal lynching”
Rider allies say feds directed Warren Police to Rider as part of ongoing campaign vs. business owner in way of downtown gentrification plans
Rider appealing conviction, represented by State Appellate Defender’s Office
August 11, 2019
MT. CLEMENS, MI — Defendant George Rider’s sentencing statement to Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Toia Aug. 1 received no play from the mainstream media, but he forwarded a copy to VOD to tell his side of what he and others say was a “legal lynching.” He reiterated that the three defendants did not even know each other. Mainstream headlines have characterized the murder of Julii Johnson in 2017 the result of a “love triangle,” finding the defendants guilty two years before delayed trial, although the first suspect was Johnson’s boyfriend Michael Lattner. He owned one gun thought to be the murder weapon and was recently convicted in federal court of possession of that gun. Rider, represented by the State Appellate Defender’s Office, filed a claim of appeal August 7, 2019.
Judge Joseph Toia–did he facilitate a legal lynching?
Following is Rider’s statement to Judge July 31, 2019:
America is a great country and this great country is governed by laws and rules. But most of all this great country has the Constitution of the United States. And everyone must abide by these laws and rules of this great country.
Judge Toia, you took an Oath, and you swore in that Oath to be fair and impartial in this courtroom. You deliberately and intentionally broke your Oath, violating the rules of this courtr00m. You violated MRE 901 and MRE 801. By doing this, you committed Malfeasance.
You hide behind your robe and the color of law to legally lynch me in this courtroom. You trample on my rights under the 4th Amendment, the 5th Amendment, the 6th Amendment, the 8th Amendment, and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
You were acting under the color of law when you symbolically and systematically used your position to legally lynch me.
Black business owners were frequently lynched by white competitors in history of U.S.
You forced me to go to trial with two individuals who I had no prior relationship with. You systematically placed me in the middle, and made me appear to be the glue that held this crime together, so you could justify this lynching.
I would have had more respect for you and this court, if you had taken me across the street in the park, and lynched me from a tree. But instead you choose to lynch me in this courtroom, under the color of law.
You violated my 6th Amendment rights when you let A.U.S.A. Karen Reynolds interfere with my attorney Suzanna Kostovski in this state case. This is one of the many reasons my attorney was ineffective as my attorney, because the federal government is not supposed to interfere with the attorney-client relationship.
Karen Reynolds offered me through my attorney Suzanna Kostovski to plead guilty to 20 years and cooperate in this state case. And of course I declined.
The plot started with the meeting on February 23, 2017 with the conspirators being A.U.S.A. Karen Reynolds, Macomb County Prosecutor Jurji Fedorak and his wife [Vera Fedorak], who is an ATF agent, along with the FBI and the Warren Police Department.
Macomb Co. AP Jurji Fedorak
ATF agent Vera Fedorak, wife of Jurji Fedorck
These same conspirators on March 25, 2017 raided my home with no search warrant, only producing an application for a warrant. They threatened my girlfriend and my son that if they did not open the door they would knock the door down. To this day, no search warrant has ever been produced, and no federal charges brought.
[Macomb County District Court] Judge Suzanna Faunce started the lynching on January 27, 2017, when she signed a search warrant without probable cause [related to earlier incident].
Judge Michael Chupa abused his discretion when he bound over this case without probable cause.
[Macomb County Circuit Court] Judge Jennifer Faunce tried to complete the lynching herself, but was recused from this case because of a conflict of interest. Then she pretended she had no knowledge of her sister Suzanna Faunce signing the search warrant in this case.
MCCC Judge Jennifer Faunce. sister 37th DC Judge Suzanne Faunce
Then they assigned this case to Good Ole Judge Joseph Toia to do the lynching and their dirty work. A Judge who is supposed to be fair. But you’re not fair. Because you’re worried about your own political interest, and getting re-elected, and opposed to upholding the law according to an Oath you took.
You’re just like all the other corrupt officials in Macomb County. A Cheater! And you will always be known as a Cheater.
Mr. Rider’s statement to VOD: I will prevail. I do believe my attorney did not fight for me. And I honestly believe she was working with them. Because it’s no way I was supposed to be charged for text messages let alone found guilty. It was a legal lynching. – George
GEORGE RIDER IN ANOTHER STORM
VOD staff writer Ricardo Ferrell
By Ricardo Ferrell
The feds are secretly celebrating the First Degree Murder conviction of George G. Rider, in the death of Julii Johnson, the Oak Park woman who was shot and killed outside a Warren condominium owned by her boyfriend J. Terrell Lattner. Lattner was originally suspected by investigators as being responsible for the murder.
According to sources a secret meeting held on the day of Rider’s arrest yielded undue influence and interference by federal authorities, especially that of Assistant United States Attorney Karen Reynolds. Reynolds, who has been on a vindictive pursuit of George Rider for many years, pushed for the Warren Police Department and the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office to bring what amounted to bogus murder charges.
There was no direct evidence connecting Rider to the crime. In the history of Michigan’s court system, never has anyone been convicted of First Degree Murder for two text messages, which haven’t been substantiated or authenticated to determine whom actually sent them. The Michigan Rules of Evidence (MRE) clearly states: text messages that cannot be authenticated from who sent them, must be determined as hearsay under MRE 901.
MRE Rule 901 – Requirement of Authentication or Identification (a) General provision. The requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims
George Rider with renowned artist Tyree Guyton at fundraiser for the Heidelberg Project. Rider is a respectable Black business and landowner allegedly targeted by white corporate gentrifiers in Detroit.
Aside from the hearsay text messages, there was no physical evidence linking Mr. Rider, no eyewitnesses, no DNA, or testimony connecting him. So, the question becomes, how in the hell can a citizen be convicted without any evidence against him or her?
It’s blatantly obvious that the reason Rider was charged in the first place was simply because his name happens to be George G. Rider, someone the federal government has vindictively pursued for decades relentlessly trying to connect him to unsolved crimes, including murders, mortgage fraud, insurance fraud, and a host of other crimes they have failed to get him on.
On July 31st, 2019, Rider will receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime he stands innocent of, one that isn’t supported by a shred of evidence. Thus, George G. Rider is riding through yet another man-made storm by federal authorities and a corrupt county Prosecutor’s office in Macomb County, Michigan.
That office is led by the county’s alleged number one crook who is under investigation himself for mishandling over a million dollars in the forfeiture fund. [Ironically, A.U.S.A. Karen Reynolds has been active in investigations into mishandling of federal funds used in Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s Demolition Project, handed out to no-bid contractors.]
We have to call into question the seemingly stacked jury make-up. How can a County have municipalities made up of nearly 50% African Americans, but insist that there weren’t enough Blacks to pull from the jury pool? That’s the absurdity in how Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor Jurij Fedorak was allowed to get away with justifying the lack of potential Black jurors, when in actuality there were many that could’ve been chosen had fairness been applied in the jury selection process.
Here again, is where we must ask the tough questions: Why didn’t the presiding Judge in the case step in and assure fairness to the defendant(s)? It’s his judicial duty to sit as a fair and impartial referee and make certain both sides, the defense and the prosecution, are playing above board by the rules. Not sit blindly and silently allowing a lopsided form of justice to take place before his bench.
Well, so much for his judicial obligations and the oath he swore to uphold. Judge Joseph Toia, in his duty as a jurist has failed to perform in accordance to what’s expected of a fair and impartial minded referee (judge). This is a vicious storm that George G. Rider has had to endure due to:
the vindictive prosecution,
the level of corruption by law authorities and judicial figures,
the blatant disregard for the administration of justice,
the numerous delays and postponements,
the tainted DNA evidence from technicians of the Michigan State Police crime lab,
the Fourth Amendment violation by a warrantless stop, search & seizure,
the obvious conflicts of interest by at least three Macomb District/County Judges,
the lack of physical evidence,
no eyewitness testimony linking Mr. Rider to the crime,and the two text messages, which amount to hearsay – all have contributed to the wrongful conviction of G. Rider.
For any Court in the State of Michigan to allow a faulty and unsupported conviction like this to stand would be a Travesty of Justice, and a black eye to the entire Judicial System. No citizen in Michigan, or anywhere in the United States, should be deprived of his or her liberties under the Constitutions of this land. The conviction of George G. Rider for the crime of First Degree Murder should and must be reversed based on the many factors that led to him being wrongfully convicted of a crime not supported by the evidence.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have organized mass rallies in support of human rights for prisoners across U.S.
This writer believes there’s never been anyone in Michigan, in the history of all first degree murder cases to be convicted by two unauthenticated text messages, where the Warren Police, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, or the interfering Federal Authorities were able to prove the identity of the actual sender of the messages. In fact, what do the two texts prove anyway? “1) Good Morning sunshine. Today is a beautiful day, Friday the 13th. 2) I hope you understand.” How can anyone be found guilty of a capital offense based on the above?
Notwithstanding, nobody testified to proof that George Rider sent the two texts. Apparently the prosecution, in his effort to get a conviction, could care less how he got it, as evidenced by his and overzealous federal authorities’ vindictive pursuit of George G. Rider. I wonder how the Michigan Court of Appeals will rule on this case of first impression. Let justice rein in and correct this wrongful conviction.
“An injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” — MLK Jr.
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Pilots demonstrating for better working conditions people who fly planes for Amazon.com and Atlas Air Worldwide picket outside Amazon.com’s annual shareholders meeting, May 22, 2019, in Seattle, Washington. Photo: CNBC
By Leslie Josephs
In the decade since the U.S. emerged from the recession, many industries, including airlines and automakers, have enjoyed a near uninterrupted streak of profits.
U.S. Airlines, better known for their boom and bust cycles, are headed for their 10th straight year of profitability. The top four biggest airlines and three biggest automakers in the country brought in more than $25 billion in profit last year.
Now, across the U.S., workers who assemble cars, fly planes, prepare airplane food, clean hotel rooms and stock grocery store shelves, just to name a few — many of them unionized employees in the middle of contract talks — are determined to get a bigger cut of the spoils.
The contracts currently under negotiation between the United Auto Workers and Big Three Detroit automakers expire in September and will set the wages and benefits for about 158,000 employees for the next few years. The more than 37,000 pilots at the three largest U.S. airlines — Delta, United and American — are seeking higher pay and better retirement benefits after cuts in past downturns. “Our goal is to reach an agreement that continues to recognize the contributions of our pilots toward our company’s success while also positioning Delta to continue its momentum,” Delta said in a statement.
After 35 years of shrinking union participation rates across the U.S., non-unionized employees at JetBlue, Amazon, Uber and Lyft are increasingly making demands for higher pay or trying to organize — emboldened by the tight labor market, low corporate taxes, healthy company profits, and rising living costs.
Uber and other ride-share drivers protest outside Wall Street bull in NYC.
Grocers owned by Kroger and Albertsons in Southern California, including Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and Ralph’s, are deep in negotiations with local members of the United Food and Commercial Workers in hopes of staving off their own strike. The region’s last grocery strike, fifteen years ago, reportedly cost the grocers $1.5 billion in sales.
“You can’t reverse 40 years of inequality in one to two years,” said Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Wage growth lags
The root of the tension, economists say, is that wage growth has not kept pace with an increase in productivity and the cost of living, despite a recent uptick. That comes as U.S. unemployment is near a 50-year low and companies need those workers.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz/Business Insider photo
“That means someone is getting more of the money,” said Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. “It is totally understandable why workers say ‘we ought to do something.’ I think the fear is: as bad as things are now they could get worse and that if we don’t do something preemptively we’re in for even more difficulties.”
Weekly wages in the U.S. increased an average of 2.6% each year from 2008 to 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Workers are now seeking not only higher pay but better working conditions, health benefits and better retirement packages, just as some companies are bracing for lower economic growth forecasts and the impact of tariffs.
Making ends meet
“The American worker … has been stretched further and further and further to make ends meet,” said labor leader and United flight attendant Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents some 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines. “That’s an impossible hamster wheel to stay on.”
AFA President Sara Nelson testifies at U. S. Congressional hearing on safety of Boeing 307 MAX safety.
Labor unions are now arguing that their members deserve higher pay as their employers are flush with profits. Their ranks had been hit by layoffs, furloughs, pay, pension and benefit cuts as their employers struggled in recessions and bankruptcy.
United Auto Workers President Gary Jones made it clear last month that union members expect to be rewarded for past work during contract negotiations this year with the Big Three in Detroit, even though U.S. auto sales this year are expected to fall below 17 million vehicles for the first time since 2014. The drop would mark the second decline in U.S. industry sales since the record of 17.55 million vehicles sold in 2016.
The unionized workers aren’t the only company employees demanding better pay and working conditions.
Non-unionized workers at JetBlue and Delta have recently organized or are considering organizing, despite company messages against it.
In May, Uber and Lyft drivers in cities from London to Los Angeles demonstrated for higher wages, some of them shutting off the ride-hailing apps during the strike. Drivers at Lyft and Uber recently won pay increases in New York.
Amazon workers in Minnesota on strike.
At Amazon, warehouse workers have used the online retailer’s two-day Prime Day sale to demand higher wages. In Minnesota in July, Amazon workers held signs that read: “We’re human; not robots” during their strike. Amazon workers in Europe also held strikes.
Other companies have increased pay recently. Bank of America, for example, raised its workers‘ minimum pay to $20 an hour in March.
Investors aren’t always receptive. When American Airlines announced pay increases in April 2017 for its pilots and flight attendants, not tied to contract negotiations, shares fell more than 5% that day.
“We’re seeing record profit for our American companies, it’s sad to say those gains aren’t really translating to our members,” United Auto Workers’ president Jones said during an event last month to officially start collective bargaining at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. “In this time of corporate prosperity, labor is still being asked to take concessions … This must stop now.”
Aviation workers are also clamoring for more pay and benefits. They argue they still haven’t fully recovered from cuts since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that roiled air travel demand and sparked a wave of airline bankruptcies.
“You don’t go through bankruptcy and win things,” said Dennis Tajer, a Boeing 737 captain at American and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s pilots. “It’s like a massage with a cheese grater: it hurts.”
Tensions between company management and some of their employees have grown so severe that disputes are ending up in courtrooms as companies allege workers are disrupting operations to gain leverage in contract talks.
Pleasing Wall Street
Donald Trump bolstered profits with corporate tax cuts in 2017.
Unions have argued their companies are aiming to please Wall Street instead of their own employees. Companies in the S&P 500 are reporting what is set to be their ninth-straight quarter of profit growth — bolstered by President Donald Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cuts.
Companies have spent a lot of that windfall to buy back their own shares, to the chagrin of workers seeking higher wages. In the decade ended in March, companies in the S&P 500 have spent around In the first quarter, S&P 500 companies spent $205.8 billion on buybacks, the second-biggest sum on record after the previous quarter and 9% more than a year earlier, according to an analysis from S&P Dow Jones Indices.
United, Southwest, American and Delta’s buybacks are among the top 150 largest in the S&P over the past decade, through the first quarter of this year, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. United spent close to $3.9 billion buying back its own shares over the last two years, the data show. The Chicago-based airline’s net income in the last two full calendar years was $4.2 billion, according to FactSet.
UAW members, meanwhile, get a slice of the automakers’ profits through profit-sharing bonuses. However the union is still trying to make up for concessions it gave up during the last economic downturn, including a decade of stagnated wages prior to 2015.
The union agreed to cut benefits and receive more substantial profit sharing in lieu of annual wage increases as a result of the Great Recession and the government-backed bankruptcies of General Motors and then-Chrysler in 2009.
Under the current four-year deals, the automakers have paid more than $4 billion in profit-sharing bonuses to UAW members. The record payments, which are based on each company’s annual earnings in North America, have averaged roughly $20,500 per worker at Fiat Chrysler, $33,400 at Ford and $45,500 for GM since 2015.
First raises in years
FCA CEO Mark Stewart
UAW members also received their first raises in a decade four years ago. Starting pay for hourly production workers is roughly $17 to $30 an hour based on seniority — well above other unionized workforces.
The profit-sharing bonuses and stagnant wages have helped the automakers control fixed costs and put labor expenses more in line with non-unionized competitors — something executives hope to continue with these negotiations.
“We cannot, we will not, repeat those actions that put us in those dangerous financial positions,” Mark Stewart, chief operating officer of FCA – North America, said last month at the company’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. “We cannot return to our old ways of doing business or we’re risking the same result.”
Decades of bankruptcies
Airline unions, whose members weathered decades of bankruptcies and their aftermath, are now seeking more for their workers in cockpits, cabins and maintenance hangars. The strong U.S. economy is propelling travel demand and putting the country’s carriers on track this year for their 10th-straight year in the black. That’s a sharp turnaround for a capital-intensive industry known for its boom-and-bust cycles that inspired recently born-again airline evangelist Warren Buffett to tell shareholders in 2008: “Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down.”
Airline profits not spent on workers, passengers.
Between the peak in 2001 and 2011, at the depths of airline industry turmoil, the sector had shed about 28% of its workforce or 145,000 jobs, according to the Department of Transportation. Full-time equivalent airline employees are back up to more than 440,000 jobs but off the pre-9/11 peak of more than 530,000 positions.
A decade of consolidation that left four big airlines in control of most of the U.S. market and strong economic growth helped domestic carriers rake in nearly $90 billion in profits since 2010, according to Airlines for America, an industry group.
“There’s money to get,” said Orley Ashenfelter, a Princeton University economics professor who specializes in labor relations and wages. “When the company’s losing money it’s hard to say you’re important.”
Some labor tensions have grown so sour they’re ending up in courtrooms.
American Airlines, for example, said in a lawsuit this spring that it had to cancel hundreds of flights because the unions that represent its more than 12,000 mechanics were engaged in an illegal work slowdown. The unions are demanding better pay and stronger limits on how much maintenance work the airline can outsource to workers overseas and have denied the allegations. A federal court in Texas in June ordered the unions to notify workers not to engage in activities that could hurt the airline.
Atlas Worldwide Airllines Holdings enjoined pilots from an “illegal worker slowdown.”
Pilots for Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, one of the cargo carriers that operates Amazon’s package-delivery airline Amazon Air, in July lost their appeal to overturn an injunction against what Atlas called excessive sick calls and an illegal worker slowdown. The company said the labor dispute contributed to its disappointing quarterly earnings, which pushed down its stock 25% after it reported on Aug. 1. Pilots there have complained about grueling work hours and low pay compared with their counterparts at rivals.
Earlier this year, Southwest had a similar dispute with its mechanics, but later reached a contract with the group, their first in more than six years, and a higher pay raise than Southwest offered in previous rounds of negotiations.
Even workers that have relatively good relations with their employers are demanding better conditions. United Airlines flight attendants last winter picketed at United’s hubs around the country after the company reduced staffing on board to FAA minimums (American and Delta were already staffed at that level), saying it compromised their safety, particularly as airlines fit more seats on board.
Protest in D.C.
Last month, the unions representing more than 20,000 airline catering workers around the country staged a protest at Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport demanding higher pay for the people who prepare airplane meals. Some 11,000 catering workers voted in June to strike.
Airline food workers on srike.
The workers voted to strike in June. But they, like other airline employees, are under the Railway Labor Act, which prohibits work stoppages and walkouts unless they are released by the president-appointed National Mediation Board. The last commercial U.S. airline pilot strike, for example, was in 2010, when Spirit’s pilots walked off the job.
Presidential hopefuls are keenly eyeing the labor dynamic. Democratic candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders attended the catering workers’ picket in Washington on July 23 as presidential hopefuls eye the growing gap between haves and have-nots as a key priority for millions of voters.
“Trump has really heightened the issue because he did win…[and] the working class was key to his victory” said Dean Baker, Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “He did create more emphasis on working class issues, and then he ends up making a lot of promises. Democrats will be claiming he didn’t keep that.”
BHAS submits new proposed plan for district to Whitmer
State AG Dana Nessel says Gov. Whitmer has no authority to close Benton Harbor schools
BENTON HARBOR–In the wake of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement of plans to close all of part of the Benton Harbor School District, the Michigan Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in strongly, calling for self-determination for the students and residents of this beleaguered Black-majority city.
In the ACLU letter, Atty. Fancher writes in part, “In recent weeks we have spoken with Benton Harbor residents and activists with whom we have had both long-term and recent acquaintance. Based on those discussions as well as our overall experience with education issues and previous administrations’ use of emergency managers, we strongly urge against any inclination to revive the idea of unilaterally closing the high school, or to resort to state control of the school district in some other form.
“Benton Harbor High School was established in 1872, and it has not only played a central role in the lives of many generations of Benton Harbor residents, it is in a real sense an anchor of the community. Closing the school would eliminate one of the only remaining educational, cultural and civic centers in a community that has endured decades of discrimination, marginalization and poverty. As for emergency management, the City of Benton Harbor’s experience with the emergency manager approach during previous administrations was one that denied the people of that city their democratic rights and democratic participation in government, regardless of one’s opinion about whether it was effective. The school system should not be subjected to the same experience.”
Fancher notes that 85 percent of Benton Harbor’s population is Black, and that it has a poverty rate of 48 percent, in the wake of “deindustrialization, white flight, rising crime rates, the crack trade, chronic unemployment, and loss of state revenue-sharing.”
Slavemaster Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder disenfranchised over half of the state’s Black population. A popular vote repealing his first Emergency Manager law was disregarded and replaced with the bulletproof PA 436.Meanwhile, the country’s largest Black majority city, Detroit, and other Black majority cities in Michigan have been stripped of virtually every asset.
He continues, “In recent years, the state’s purported efforts to address Benton Harbor’s challenges through emergency management have not only failed, they have made matters worse because they were part of a pattern of state actions that were racially discriminatory. In a case challenging the constitutionality of the emergency manager laws, U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh noted: ‘By plaintiffs’ calculations, over 52% of Michigan’s African Americans are under emergency manager authority pursuant to the enactment of [the emergency manager law], compared to two percent of Michigan’s Caucasian citizens.'”
Steeh said also that six out of seven communities of color (85%) were taken over by emergency managers because the state scored them at fiscal alert rates of 7, while no communities with a majority-white population and fiscal alert rates of 7 were taken over.
“By 2011 the school district was $18 million in debt,” Fancher continued. “The state issued an ultimatum demanding that school officials cut $2.6 million from its budget or have an emergency manager appointed to run the district.”
He said the district later agreed to a state-approved debt elimination plan, but its economic troubles continued, causing it to go further into debt. The debt was down to $15 million by 2014, out of a total $40 million budget. The district consolidated 40 percent of its buildings, privatized non-instructional services, and enacted 10 percent pay cuts for the rest of the staff.
Subsequently, Fancher writes, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed a district “CEO,” Robert Herrera, who reported directly to the state school reform board, not the district’s board. He resigned in June.
[VOD: During Herrera’s tenure, the district’s debt rose back again to $18 million; however the operating deficit last year was just $4.8 million. But the district is expected to pay the principal on $11 million in state loans which the state no longer backs, in 2020, according to a report from the Michigan Citizens Research Council. at https://crcmich.org/whats-next-for-the-financial-crisis-in-benton-harbor-schools/
Benton Harbor High School students rally to save their school district in June, 2019.
Fancher says the position of the state ACLU is that the people of Benton Harbor have the right to evaluate their school board at the ballot box, and that attacks on school leaders can obscure the real causes of a district’s problems.
“Research by Michigan State University Professor David Arsen demonstrates that a school district’s financial distress may be due to race and factors unrelated to school management,” Fancher notes. He says Arsen found in 2015 that 10 percent of the state’s 550 districts had operating deficits in the years 2012 to 2014, but that emergency managers were assigned primarily to predominantly African-American districts, including the state’s largest district, in Detroit.
“Arsen sought, and found, an explanation for this racial phenomenon. He concluded that predominantly Black school districts find themselves having to do far more with fewer resources, not because they are Black, but because of the dynamic triggered by the presence of charter schools in the district. High achieving students in search of better educational opportunities leave the district’s schools for charter schools and leave behind students who need much more expensive special education services:
Detroit Public Schools teachers walked out across the district in 2001 to rally in Lansing against bill that would have opened the way to more charter schools. They succeeded for the time being. But now the majority of Detroit students attend for-profit charter schools with limited curriculums and accountability.
“Districts with high concentrations of African American students are much more likely to be subject to intense charter school penetration, to lose students to inter-district choice, and to have higher concentrations of students with disabilities.”
He continued, “We also want to lift up concerns in the community about having Benton Harbor High School students attend schools in neighboring districts. Racial integration has many potential benefits, but it cannot occur successfully without proper preparation of the communities that will be affected. This would require the engagement of skilled professionals working in Benton Harbor and neighboring communities over an extended period of time. The resources that would be required for such an undertaking would be better spent on improvement of Benton Harbor’s own high school.
(VOD note: According to the report from the Michigan Citizens Research Council, 65 percent of Benton Harbor students attend school in other districts already.)
ACLU Decries Corporate Land Grab behind Whitmer plan
Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, elected in 2016.
He quotes Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad who said that he believes the state’s motive is to seize the prime property near the St. Joseph River where Benton Harbor High School is located. Muhammad noted he has seen development plans with no high school building on the site.
“Follow the money and money talks,” he said. “They say it’s about finances. But what’s not said in the undercurrent is there is elaborate plans to turn Benton Harbor into a tourist attraction for second homes and retirement and recreation. Basically, a new population and push out those who have stayed in the city.”
Rev. Edward Pinkney speaks at rally in Benton Harbor in 2012: Jean Klock Park is not for sale!
Fancher continues, “The ACLU has heard this viewpoint expressed not only by individuals engaged in civic affairs but also by everyday Benton Harbor residents. The fears are based on a very real history. More than fifteen years ago, developers set their sights on seizing part of Jean Klock Park’s beachfront for development of an upscale golf resort.
“There was considerable resistance by Benton Harbor residents. Nevertheless, there has been extensive beachfront development of residential properties that are likely far beyond the reach of most Benton Harbor residents. The high school, its athletic fields and other school grounds are in the vicinity of entertainment enterprises located along Riverview Drive.”
He concludes that the residents of Benton Harbor “possess great insight regarding causes and potential solutions. If the state comes into Benton Harbor with pre-packaged guidelines, timetables and solutions, it sends the message that the people of the community cannot be trusted to determine their own destiny.”
AG NESSEL: WHITMER HAS NO LEGAL RIGHT TO CLOSE BH SCHOOLS
The Detroit News reported recently, “State Attorney General spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney told The Detroit News the governor has no legal authority to ‘force’the Benton Harbor school board to accept her proposal to educate only students in grades K-8 and send all high school students to neighboring districts.
State AG Dana Nessel
“The governor’s proposal was an attempt to avoid the Treasurer and (Michigan Department of Education) from taking more severe and drastic statutory action against BHAS such as dissolving the BHAS school district … or having the Superintendent of Public Instruction conduct a preliminary review to determine the existence of probable financial stress,” Rossman-McKinney said in an email.
Brown said action by state lawmakers would be needed if dissolution is sought because Benton Harbor does not meet all of the criteria outlined in the law to dissolve the district. Specifically, the district did not lose at least 10% of students between the 2017-18 and the 2018-19 school years, Brown said.”
BENTON HARBOR AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT SUBMITS NEW PLAN TO GOV.
Benton Harbon VP Joseph Taylor also accused Gov. Whitmer of facilitating a land grab at BHHS in interview at top of story.
At the same time, it announced plans for the opening of the new school year at Benton Harbor High School and the remainder of the district.
The proposal includes the following key issues, in part:
General Local Control and Accountability
BHAS Board of Education will have full local control and will operate the entire BHAS K-12 school district.
Because the threat of shutting down Benton Harbor High School has resulted in the adverse effect of parents seeking to enroll their school-aged children outside of the District, the proposed Agreement must provide that both the Board and the State are committed to keeping Benton Harbor High School open for a minimum of four years.
The proposed Agreement must provide that if the District meets its annual benchmarks (e.g., 12-month, 24-month, 36-month, 48-month), then the four-year commitment to keep Benton Harbor High School open will continue to roll-over annually, so that students who enroll in BHAS as a freshman know that they will be able to graduate as a Tiger.
BHAS Board will have full control over all BHAS property and buildings, including the approval of any lease or sale.
BHAS Academic and Student Performance
In 2012 march to stop disastrous Detroit bankruptcy proceedings, Maureen Taylor carries a sign demanding forgiveness of DPS debt. Marchers also demanded forgiveness of city debt. After Detroit bankruptcy, its debt rose by 300 percent.
BHAS will continue to implement a consistent, evidence-based curriculum across K-12, including regular and appropriate professional development for the District’s instructional staff. The costs associated with providing the professional development may be paid for by grant funding, philanthropic funding, or in-kind donations. BHAS will continue to work to increase the number of certified teachers who are hired by BHAS, especially in the areas of English Language Arts and Math.”
The board noted that such additions may be affected by a national teacher shortage, non-competitive wages, and the instability of the district.
It included a requirement that the state provide additional funding to enable BHAS to recruit and retain certified teachers.
BHAS added that it will continue to work to decrease the percentage of students who are subjected to disciplinary measures that result in the student being suspended or expelled from school, and work to decrease the percentage of students who are deemed truant. BHAS will also continue to work to resolve any outstanding special education discipline compliance issues that were remaining at the end of the 2018-19 school year, and in the future.
The BHAS also addressed fiscal issues, saying it will adopt and maintain a sound financial and operating plan for the District. This includes a balanced budget, an Enhanced Deficit Elimination Plan if required by the state treasurer, and other measures utilizing Department of Treasury recommendations.
Meanwhile a study has shown that Michigan has reduced its provision of state school funding to districts to the point where Michigan now has the lowest level of school funding in the nation.
The reduction has been caused over the years in large part by huge reductions in state corporate taxation and increases instead in funding for the state’s prison system. and more corporate tax breaks.
Benton Harbor students have also called for the state to forgive the District’s debt, largely caused by state actions under emergency managers. The state should begin by forgiving the $11 million in state loans due in 2020. The debt of Black cities and school districts across the state has been used as an excuse for state takeovers, when in fact it is encouraged by the state and the banks as a source of highly excessive interest payments.
Benton Harbor High School is located in the mid-city Empire Street district off the St. Joseph RIver, currently being redeveloped by wealthy financiers.
Pier 1000 near BH High School off St. Joseph River: tourists don’t want Black students in area.
Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono, going. Among ongoing expenses are quarterly Lunar Pages web host charges of $350, costs for court documents, internet fees, office supplies, gas, etc. Please, if you can:
Detroit Black Music Awards: “We’ve acknowledged Entertainers from the least to the greatest, from Motown stars to Local stars”–Misty Love, Pres.
11th Annual DBMA to be held in Detroit, the “Music Capital of the World”
VOD staff writer Ricardo Ferrell
By Ricardo Ferrell
DETROIT — The DBMA to be held on Sunday, August 4th, 2019, at the Charles H. Wright Museum marks the 11th year this prestigious event has been in Detroit.
Misty Love, President of the Detroit Black Music Awards, is proud to announce this year’s event, which is primed to be the best she and partner Billy Wilson, the President of the Motown Alumni Association, will be presenting, holding it in what could easily be termed the Music Capital of the World.
Misty Love has had quite a singing career. She’s a vocalist with one Gold record; six Platinum records and 10 Diamond records to her credit for singing with artists like Kid Rock and Cheryl Crow. Misty’s also quite the songwriter. She has written songs for Kid Rock that went on to sell over five million copies. Misty has been singing all her life and have been on every show from David Letterman, the Tonight Show, VHI Awards, MTV Awards, and the Soul Train Awards.
Aside from living and singing in Las Vegas, Nevada, she’s been to Spain and other places around the globe showcasing her angelic God-given voice. The idea to create a Detroit version of the Black Music Awards came about when Misty won Blues Singer of the year two years in a row at the Las Vegas Black Music Awards. It inspired her to explore bringing the event to Detroit in 2009.
Every year since its inception, the DBMA has had at least 10 categories, including best R&B male; best R&B female; Entertainer of the Year; best Gospel, etc. The DBMA also gives at least five Special Tribute Awards and five(5) Lifetime Achievement Awards. Misty Love continues to bring this illustrious event to Detroit year after year with No Sponsors! Primarily the only financial support she receives is when someone purchases an ad in her souvenir book.
This year’s event will likely feature a tribute to the late Aretha Louise Franklin, known around the world as the Queen of Soul. In the Motor City she will always be remembered as the Queen of Detroit for all she contributed to the city she loved so dearly.
Aretha Franklin’s homegoing was held at Charles H. Wright Museum.
Misty Love told me in a handwritten correspondence, “So many Detroit artists never get any recognition. They sing in these clubs and concerts and never get any recognition. It doesn’t matter if they perform in a poolroom, they should be recognized for their musical talents. We’ve acknowledged Entertainers from the least to the greatest, from Motown stars to Local stars. It doesn’t matter to us because we give each of them the same recognition.”
The Detroit Black Music Awards is a very classy event and its also a formal affair. Misty calls it “The BET in The DET” which is quite fitting. Black Entertainment at its best in Detroit, you simply can’t get it any better than that, especially since some of the best-of-the-best singers were born and raised in Detroit. The Motown history itself and what that musical dynasty was able to accomplish from scratch inspired the grind and creativity of a determined Black woman to provide a platform for all to be rightfully recognized regardless of their status in the music industry.
Misty Love is the truth when it comes to putting in real work for the mission, and not thinking about any reward. She is a beautiful soul and has a heart of gold. This annual epic event is made possible by the help of Misty’s partner Billy Wilson, who is one of the most prolific Motown historians of today. Billy’s expertise and wealth of knowledge in the music industry, specifically that of the Motown Sound from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and beyond adds credence to the DBMA and its mission.
Billy Wilson and Misty Love during previous DBMA at Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.
Billy Wilson’s knowledge of Motown’s stature and humble beginnings is priceless. These two brilliant minds, Misty Love & Billy Wilson and their tireless efforts, are what makes the Detroit Black Music Awards such a great and epic event.
“People love this event and they tend to enjoy the voting process, where they can vote for their favorite artist,” says Misty.
Misty shared with me how she will remain committed to the Detroit Black Music Awards, and continue to recognize every talent she can, as her way of giving back. She also said, “I do this to give people their Roses now while they can still see and smell them.”
Some of the notable supporters of the DBMA are: Judge Deborah Thomas, Gloria Ray, Charles H. Wright Museum, Fox 2 News, Voice of Detroit, and a host of others.
Writer’s note: The Detroit Black Music Awards is an event that all Black folks and business owners in the City of Detroit, and its surrounding areas should sponsor and promote without any reservations. This annual event solidifies the true essence of why its imperative that we as a people show a willingness to be supportive of one another regardless of our demographics, or socio-economic status. Detroit is headed for another comeback, and the Detroit Black Music Awards is gearing up to reinvigorate the Motown sound, and giving local talents the stage needed to showcase their talents, is what the DBMA’s are all about. If you have heard about this annual event, then certainly you wouldn’t want to miss this year’s epic extravaganza.
Charles Jones gets 10-20 yrs. for manslaughter in Je’Rean Blake death, concurrent with perjury sentence, after ‘nolo contendere’ plea deal
Eligible for parole in 2021; Atty. Leon Weiss says he will urge officials to release Jones at earliest date
“Didn’t Jones give Chauncey Owens the gun?”— first question asked at press conference on police slaughter of 7-year-old Aiyana in 2010
“WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THIS?”—shocked response from family attorney Geoffrey Fieger
After victim impact statements, Judge Wanda Evans implores family to move forward
Mertilla Jones’ favorite photo of her granddaughter Aiyana Stanley Jones.
By Diane Bukowski
July 30, 2019/updated 8/1/19
DETROIT—Two days after Detroit police shot Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7, to death as she slept May 16, 2010, the family’s attorney Geoffrey Fieger held a press conference about the horrific midnight SWAT-style raid on her grandmother Mertilla Jones’ flat in a poor east-side Detroit neighborhood.
Raid leader Detroit cop Joseph Weekley, a resident of well-to-do Detroit suburb Grosse Pointe, had blasted the child in the head with a submachine gun, only seconds after entry into the home. A neighbor commented later, “They came to kill.”
Weekley was a featured star on A&E’s “The First 48,” which filmed detailed, secret police preparations for the raid during two days after the killing of Je’Rean Blake, 17, on May 16. The A&E cameras were there as police met in a field just prior to the raid, filming their discussion of tactical plans. Then they followed along as the DPD armored vehicle approached the Jones home in a poor Detroit east-side neighborhood, and filmed the raid itself.
Fieger press conference May 18, 2010; (l to r) Aiyana’s cousin Mark Robinson, mother Dominika Stanley, father Charles Jones, Atty. Geoffrey Fieger, grandmother Mertilla Jones, aunt Krystal Sanders. Along with Aiyana’s two toddler brothers, great-aunt Robinson, and cousin Vincent Ellis, all were present during police raid conducted for the benefit of A&E’s “The First 48.”
Aiyana’s father Charles Jones and mother Dominika Stanley joined Mertilla Jones and other family members, all still numb with grief and shock, to describe the raid.
“As soon as they hit the window, I hit the floor and reached for my grandbaby,” Mertilla Jones sobbed. “I saw the light go out of her eyes and blood coming out of her mouth. I had never seen anything like that before. My beautiful, gorgeous granddaughter. I can’t trust them; I can’t trust the Detroit police.”
The mainstream media was out in force at that press conference. Despite the family’s heart-wrenching accounts, the first question out of a reporter’s mouth was, “Didn’t Charles Jones give Chauncey Owens the gun?” Clearly prompted by a leak from DPD insiders, he referred to Blake’s killing.
An appalled Fieger responded, “WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THIS?”
NINE YEARS LATER, MEDIA STILL LIES, SLANTS STORIES ON DEATHS OF AIYANA, JE’REAN
On July 26, Wayne Co. Circuit Court Judge Wanda Evans re-sentenced Charles Jones to 10-20 years on a reduced charge of manslaughter, to run concurrently with a 10-20 year sentence for perjury, in the killing of Je’Rean Blake May 14, 2010. The perjury charge related to his secret and untranscribed testimony in front of now Chief Judge Timothy Kenny, who acted as a one-man grand jury in charging Jones and Owens.
Joseph Weekley shown as star on previous series, Detroit SWAT.
Jones will get credit for the 2,841 days he has served so far, Judge Evans said, and he could be released with the next two years with good conduct. In contrast, his daughter’s killer, DPD A&E star Joseph Weekley, walked after several mis-trials on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm.
Jones was re-sentenced after a Court of Appeals remanded his case to the trial court, saying that the late Judge Richard Skutt’s failure to answer some of the jurors’ questions caused them confusion, resulting in contradictory verdicts of “guilty” of second-degree murder and “not-guilty” of firearms charges. The prosecution’s case was based on a never-proven theory that Jones had supplied the gun that killed Blake. See COA opinion at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Charles-Jones-COA-charge-1.pdf
Judge Skutt, however, had bravely tried to exclude testimony from two “jail-house snitches,” but was overturned on appeal by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. He suffered a fatal heart attack last year, on his way from another judge’s court.
Atty. Leon Weiss (center) speaks during Charles Jones (l) resentencing. AP Mark Hindelang at right.
During Jones’ resentencing, his attorney Leon Weiss acknowledged, “This is a tragedy for two families. We went through a six week trial, but you don’t get over losses like this. I spoke to Charles for many hours about the loss of his daughter. I believe the sentencing agreement is fair and just.”
He said later that he will urge the parole board to release Jones at the earliest possible date.
Jones said simply, “I would like to offer my condolences to the family. I pray that they get to mourn, grieve and rejoice from my conviction. I’m sorry for their loss.”
Jones’ family members, including his three oldest sons, were present for the re-sentencing, hoping to hear that he would be released with time served. (See photo below. His mother Mertilla Jones is at center.)
Je’Rean Blake’s family members including his mother Lyvonne Cargill, 10-year-old daughter Zyonna Cray, and godmother Lakese Anderson read victim impact statements.
Charles Jones’ family at his resentencing July 26, 2019.
Anderson said, “Je’Rean was a kind, giving, thoughtful young man. I pray that [Jones] receives the maximum sentence and that it runs consecutively with the other charge.” She said Blake was about to graduate from high school and planned to join the U.S. Marines.
Anderson read Cray’s statement which said in part, “How could you do this to my daddy? Now I get no calls or help from my daddy. I don’t get birthday or Xmas presents. He’s not here to help me with my homework. How could you sleep after helping someone take his life. You tried to hide him in your family home and your daughter lost her life.”
Cray was one-and-a-half years old when Blake died.
Jerean Blake’s mother is shown sitting with Je’Rean’s friend Jacquavis (J-Roc) Richards during Jones-Owens trial in this Detroit News photo.
Cargill said in part, “I miss my son. I can’t go to work. Police told me I had to go through the trial all over again. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. . . .I’m tired, ready to snap. Some people say I’m just in it for the money. They are wrong. You stole my son’s life.”
During the years after the police raid, Cargill appeared repeatedly in news interviews and on talk shows characterizing the Jones family as criminals who caused the raid on their home, aiding the official police version of events. She also ran Facebook pages with similar comments.
Before sentencing Jones, Judge Wanda Evans spoke to Blake’s family.
“What I hope for you is that no matter what has happened in the past, you look to the future and not let this control you anymore,” Evans said. “To the daughter: remember how your dad would want you to feel—he would want you to feel joy and love in spite of all. He wants you to live the best life you can live. He wants you to take this situation and not hold on to the anger. He would want you to be the voice that he no longer can be. To be able to help someone that might have been in the same situation that you’re in, to help them to get past all the hurt and the pain that your grandmother said that you’re feeling.”
Judge Wanda Evans
She continued, “What your grandmother said—I’m tired and I need some help. It’s not easy going through the grief process alone. There are professionals out there that can help you go through the different stages, of what’s going on in your head and your heart, to help your family be strong and move on.”
Evans officially barred further social media posts by the families related to this case, and informed Jones that he must have no contact with Blake’s family upon release.
Mainstream media accounts of Jones’ re-sentencing, nine years later, are still following the pattern initiated at the May 18, 2010 Fieger press conference. This is despite the City of Detroit’s apparent change of heart in settling a lawsuit filed by Aiyana’s parents for $8.25 million. It was the Office of the General Counsel for the Third Judicial Circuit Court which announced the sentencing agreement for Charles Jones in the death of Je’Rean Blake, not Prosecutor Kym Worthy, in another forward step.
But the media continue to allege that Blake’s “slaying triggered the police manhunt that ended with Aiyana shot to death in her family’s home during a raid.”
Charles Jones (l) and Chauncey Owens (r) during trial; Jones’ attorney Leon Weiss with back to camera.
They also claim, falsely, that police were looking for Charles Jones, not Chauncey Owens, who resided in the upstairs flat at a separate address. Police had a warrant to search that address specifically to arrest Owens only.
Owens is serving a life-without-parole sentence after refusing to testify that Jones gave him the gun that killed Blake. In a police video of his interrogation after Owens learned that Aiyana had died, shown to his jury but not to Charles’ jury, he named another man as the one who supplied the gun, and originally identified his brother as the killer.
At the beginning of the interrogation, Owens told police repeatedly that he had killed no one. He named his brother Sh’ronn Hurt, who lived across the street from the Jones family flat, as responsible for Blake’s death. DPD Sgt. Kenneth Gardner and others manipulated the interrogation by belatedly allowing Owens to call his fiancée, Aiyana’s aunt LaKrystal Sanders. Police had not told Owens that Aiyana was dead, but Sanders did so.
DPD Sgt. Kenneth Gardner; photo from A&E’s “First 48” website.
Like Joseph Weekley, Sgt. Gardner was also a featured star on A&E’s “The First 48.” His efforts to get Owens to confess facilitated the show’s story-line that necessitated solving the Blake murder in 48 hours.
Despite Sgt. Gardner’s repeated efforts to get him to name Charles Jones as the man who gave him the gun, he adamantly stated Jones never did so, or at the very most, was only present at the scene, which is NOT a crime.
Owens filed an appeal of his life sentence which was rejected by the Court of Appeals Sept. 15, 2015, except for an objection to an assessment of court costs, which was remanded to the trial court. (See COA ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/COA-Chauncey-Owens-9-15-2015.pdf ). Court records do not show whether the case was so remanded, and there is no record of an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.
The Appeals Court rejected Owens’ argument that his original plea to second-degree murder based on providing a “truthful statement” of events in the Je’rean Blake killing had been unlawfully voided. The COA cited the prosecutor’s version of the plea agreement as follows:
“The Defendant must testify truthfully about the individual who supplied him with the gun he used to shoot the victim. If the Defendant cooperates and testifies truthfully any time we ask him, then we will allow – we will be asking the sentencing judge – if we’re satisfied with his testimony, to reduce his sentence by two years. The Defendant must testify at all hearings requested and must submit to a polygraph if requested.”
The COA said Owens’ refusal to testify specifically against his co-defendant Charles Jones violated this agreement. However, there is nothing in the agreement, as VOD reported earlier, that required Owens to name Charles Jones as the person who allegedly supplied a gun to him. The COA also rejected arguments regarding the failure to call witnesses who allegedly heard Sh’rrod Hurt admit to the Blake killing, claiming they were “hearsay within hearsay.” It rejected other arguments as well.
‘The Militarization of the Police’ and its role in the death of Aiyana Stanley Jones
The media, including even local talk show hosts like Mildred Gaddis and the late Angelo Henderson, put the tragic death of Blake, 17, during a personal confrontation outside a party store, on the same level as the horrific military raid launched on a poor family’s home, taking the life of their beloved Aiyana.
Aiyana Jones’ mother, aunt and grandfather March 8, 2013.
PBS reported, “Police militarization neither reduces rates of violent crime nor changes the number of officers assaulted or killed, according to a study of 9,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The study is arguably the nation’s first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force.
“In at least one state — Maryland — police are more likely to deploy militarized units in black neighborhoods, confirming a suspicion long held by critics, the study found.”
But media locally have largely diminished this nationally-recognized factor when it comes to the cases of Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Je’Rean Blake.
The blame lies not only with the media but also with various community leaders who similarly equated Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ death with an “epidemic of violence” among the youth of Detroit and cities like it. The real epidemic of violence has been perpetrated by the U.S. military, police agencies, and the U.S. government across the world. So-called “Black-on-Black” violence is directly connected to factors of extreme poverty, unemployment, the destruction of public school systems and public recreation opportunities for youth nationally, and the repeatedly exposed role of U.S. secret agencies like the CIA in flooding poor communities of color with drugs.
Related story (the story below contains links to all other stories published by VOD on the police murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones.)
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