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As Water Crisis in Detroit Escalates, Groups Pressure United Nations to Take Action, Restore Water Service to Thousands of Residents and Ensure the Human Right to Water
Joint Media Release
June 18, 2014
Detroit, Michigan — In March 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it would begin shutting off water service for 1,500 to 3,000 customers every week if their water bills were not paid, and yesterday, the City Council approved an 8.7 percent water rate increase. According to a recent DWSD document, more than 80,000 residential households are in arrears.
With thousands of families now without water, and thousands more expected to lose access at any moment, a group of concerned organizations have submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, urging authorities to take immediate action to restore water services and stop further cut-offs. The report was released by the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch.
“By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water,” said Blue Planet Project Founder and Food & Water Watch Board Chair Maude Barlow. “After decades of policies that put businesses and profits ahead of the public good, the city now has a major crisis on its hands. It is shocking and abominable that anyone would be subjected to these conditions.”
Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent. With unemployment rates at a record high and the poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population. Many of those affected by the shut-offs were given no warning. The infirm have been left without water and functioning toilets, children cannot bathe and parents cannot adequately prepare food for their families.
“When delinquent corporate water lines are still running without collection of funds, it demonstrates a level of intentional disparity that devalues the lives of the people struggling financially. Where is our compassion? Where is our humanity?” asked Lila Cabbil, President Emeritus of the Rosa Parks Institute.
In 2013, Detroit declared bankruptcy and appointed Kevyn Orr as emergency manager, giving him a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially. Orr has since taken steps to privatize the DWSD, and many now believe that the water shut-offs are an attempt to appeal to potential investors. In the Great Lakes region, large, private water companies charge households on average more than twice as much as rates charged by comparable publicly-controlled systems. Moreover, private operation has been linked to poor service, workforce reductions, maintenance backlogs, water leaks and sewage spills.
The Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch make the following recommendations:
- We call on the State of Michigan and the U.S. government to respect the human right to water and sanitation.
- We call on the city to restore services to households that have been cut off immediately.
- We call on the city to abandon its plan for further cut-offs.
- We call on the federal and state governments to work with the city to ensure a sustainable public financing plan and rate structure that would prevent a transfer of the utility’s financial burden onto residents who are currently paying exorbitant rates for their water services.
- We call for fair water rates for the residents of Detroit.
- We call on the City of Detroit to implement the original water affordability program.
For more information:
Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, email@example.com
The Detroit People’s Water Board is a coalition that includes AFSCME Local 207, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Detroit Green Party, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Food & Water Watch, FLOW, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Matrix Theater, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, Sierra Club and Voices for Earth Justice. The coalition advocates for access, protection, and conservation of water and promotes the human right to water.
The Blue Planet Project is a global initiative that works with organizations and activists around the world to promote water as a human right and a commons. This includes working with local organizations and activists on grassroots struggles to protect democratic, community control of water, and building a movement to see the full implementation of the human right to water and sanitation. The Blue Planet Project is affiliated with international networks including Friends of the Earth International, Red Vida (the Americas Network on the Right to Water) and the People’s Health Movement.
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping the global commons – our shared resources – under public control.
The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization fights for, and represents, the victims of poverty. We organize to eliminate poverty and to stop the war against the poor. We are working with people to deal with the current water crisis in the City of Detroit by advocating for low income people to demand fair treatment, registering complaints against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), organizing protests and the DWSD offices and Detroit local government buildings, alerting people to resources – when available – to help with their water bills, and speaking out on the human right to water in the media and at public events.
Recent related stories:
All across the country, heavily armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged.
Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.
As our new report makes clear, it’s time for American police to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not wage war on the people who live in them.
ATLANTA; SWAT Raid Ends with Toddler in Medically-Induced Coma
This van, containing several car seats, was parked in the driveway of the home where they were staying when, just before 3:00am on a night in May of 2014, a team of SWAT officers armed with assault rifles burst into the room where the family was sleeping.
Some of the kids’ toys were in the front yard, but the Habersham County and Cornelia police officers claimed they had no way of knowing children might be present. One of the officers threw a flashbang grenade into the room. It landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib.
It took several hours before Alecia and Bounkahm, the baby’s parents, were able to see their son. The 19-month-old had been taken to an intensive burn unit and placed into a medically induced coma. When the flashbang grenade exploded, it blew a hole in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s face and chest. The chest wound was so deep it exposed his ribs. The blast covered Bou Bou’s body in third degree burns. At the time of this report’s publication, three weeks after the raid, it was still unclear whether Baby Bou Bou would live. Bounkahm spent this Father’s Day in the hospital with his son. Learn more at www.justiceforbabyboubou.com and in ACLU report.
DETROIT: SWAT TEAM MURDERS AIYANA STANLEY-JONES, 7
“In 2010, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed when, just after midnight, a SWAT team threw a flashbang grenade through the window into the living room where she was asleep. The flashbang burned her blanket and a member of the SWAT team burst into the house, firing a single shot, which killed her.” (From ACLU Report).
Since Aiyana’s horrific death, her family has been subjected to unending agony by a police cover-up, which recently resulted in the imprisonment of her father Charles Jones for 40-60 years . See VOD related stories in Aiyana’s case at bottom of this post.
Disparate Impact on Communities of Color
It is widely known that policing tactics across the country often unfairly target communities of color. According to our investigation, the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics appears to be no different. These maps show the distribution of SWAT raids by racial composition of neighborhoods in two cities, but this trend is echoed nationwide. Read the complete report for more.
Hyper-aggressive policing won’t go away simply by identifying a couple “bad apples” or dismissing the problem as a few isolated instances. As this map makes clear, excessive militarization is a nationwide trend.
To Serve and Protect, Not to Raid and Ravage
Not every situation requires 20 heavily armed SWAT officers and an armored personnel carrier. And yet, we collected reports of full deployments to homes where no contraband was found, where there was no clear reason for thinking the people inside would be armed or awake, and where children and the elderly were present. We need to ensure that hyper-aggressive tools and tactics are only used in situations where they are truly necessary to protect people. It’s also time to push for greater transparency and ensure that the federal government is not incentivizing the militarization of our state and local police.
Justice Powerhouse- Charity Hicks
The Praxis Project is publishing this appeal by Kolu Zigbi to support our comrade and sister Charity Hicks. Please consider supporting this extraordinary servant leader.
“Your Human Dignity shouldn’t be truncated because you’re priced out of the commodification of an essential resource.“
Charity Hicks on water shut-offs
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Charity Hicks, an extraordinary Detroit activist, advocate, movement weaver, and policy director for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), has been in a coma in a New York City hospital since May 31st.
She has very serious head and chest injuries resulting from a hit and run accident near Penn Station in NYC as she waited for a bus to go to the Left Forum where she was to present on a panel.
There are two parts to this email: the first describes some of her work, the second describes the need for your support and how to help.
Some of you may have heard Charity speak at the Environmental Grantmakers Association State of the States dinner at Colors restaurant in Detroit last February, or at the EDGE Funders gathering held at EMEAC the next day. I’ve had the honor of working closely with her because Charity is one of four Fellows of the Everybody At the Table for Health (EAT4Health) initiative. Read her EAT4Health bio here.
She has been working to understand and influence federal policies to facilitate food access in low income communities, benefit regional farmers including African American producers, create living wage jobs in food retail and spin-off businesses, while promoting opportunities for cooperative ownership.
Charity always spoke out for the marginalized, affirmed the role of government against privatization, wove deep ecological understanding into her analysis, mentored young leaders and sat at many tables such as the Food Justice Task Force and the People’s Water Board. Charity worked with the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to bring Food Sovereignty Award recipients from Haiti and Brazil to visit urban farmers in Detroit and she later traveled to Brazil to meet with members of the MST (Landless People’s Movement).
Just in the week before the accident Charity:
Hosted other EAT4Health Fellows on a tour of the historic home, the Cass Corridor Commons, which EMEAC owns, manages and shares with other non-profits.
Helped co-lead the peoples’ response to the City’s shut-off of thousands of Detroit households for non-payment of water bills as even just $75. As a member of the People’s Water Board, Charity called attention to the human rights issues involved, bringing Maude Barlow to Detroit to speak about water as part of the commons. Maud declared: But the people of Detroit face another sinister enemy. Every day, thousands of them, in a city that is situated right by a body of water carrying one-fifth of the world’s water supply, are having their water ruthlessly cut off by men working for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Most of the residents are African American and two-thirds of the cut offs involve children, which means that in some cases, child welfare authorities are moving in to remove children from their homes as it is a requirement that there be working utilities in all homes housing children.
Organized a People’s Movement Assembly on Food Justice at EMEAC
Watch this interview with Charity that explains the connections between Climate Change, the polar vortex, poverty, banks and bankruptsy, the need for an alternative approach to sustain infrastructure, and why Detroiter’s are getting their water shut off. (Link not working, alternate speech in Montreal below.)
Charity never shrank from calling out racism, and sharing a vision of justice and opportunity for all, and she used her intellectual gifts to inspire others to work together. She was in demand, perhaps too much so, and rarely turned down an invitation to speak, to create connections and grow the movement, often traveling long distances by bus and train, never complaining of the time and discomfort involved.
Charity’s husband, Louis, came to New York to be with her in the hospital. Ife Kilimanjaro, EMEAC co-director, was in the City at the time of the accident, attending the same conference. She has stayed to care for and advocate for Charity. Both have been by Charity’s side almost continuously, taking turns spending the night in her room. Sadly, Charity has, till today, been unresponsive.
What can we do? What can you do?
- EMEAC has set up a fund to collect donations promising that 100% of the money collected will go to meeting Charity’s needs. Please donate whatever you can to:
(1) Go to www.emeac.org
(2) Click “MAKE A DONATION”
(3) Name your donation and type “For Charity Hicks” under “Dedication or Gift” in the designated box
Or you can just click this button
You may also mail donations to the office, but be sure to write “For Charity Hicks” on the check or money order.
C/o Charity Hicks
4605 Cass Ave.
Detroit, MI 48201
- Forward this appeal to others in your network who may be compassionate and care about justice
- Louis and all of us who love Charity have not stopped hoping for a miracle and praying for her to come back. Please think of her, send her your love and good energy. Do what your spirit moves you to do on her behalf.
- If you know a professional/expert that comes to mind who might provide pro-bono help (an attorney, a brain surgeon, etc.) or have potentially helpful information to share please let me know and I will help connect you with Ife and Charity’s husband.
This is devastating for all of us, and we particularly lift up Louis and Ife for support, but also Charity’s mentors and fellow activists in her home in Detroit, and the many who know and love her throughout the country and even internationally.
Related article with Charity Hicks interview after her arrest for protesting water shut-offs in her neighborhood, shortly before the NYC tragedy. Article says Charity was expected to speak at Call ‘em out Gathering that Satuday, but the accident intervened.
Below: video of healing circle for Charity Hicks in Detroit June 5, 2014.
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
June 17, 2014
For the people of the Middle East, the American war never ended; it continued under the brutal, U.S.-backed jihadists who ravaged Syria, and have struck at Iraq with a vengeance. In the United States, George Bush gets the blame for the Iraq War while the First Black President reignites the region with his proxy wars and apocalyptic threats. “Imperialism is still on the move and now has a more shrewd personification in the person of Barack Obama.”
“Iran is now more of a “frenemy” because it supports Iraqi president Maliki against the ISIS threat.”
Beginning in 1991 the United States government brought what has become a never ending hell to Iraq. President George H.W. Bush’s war that year was followed by devastating sanctions which were continued by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It was bad enough that 500,000 children died because of shortages of food and medicine but in 2003 Bush the younger and his henchmen and women rolled the dice on invasion and an occupation that lasted for more than ten years. The Project for a New American Century, the 21st century version of Manifest Destiny, demanded a Pax Americana which set out to make the United States the master of the world.
It is unfortunate that Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and company became the only faces of American aggression. They are indeed responsible for the 2003 invasion but imperialism is still on the move and now has a more shrewd personification in the person of Barack Obama.The corporate media have quite a lot to answer for in their reporting of the Iraqi and American relationship. They take their cue from whoever is in the White House and repeat what countless spokespeople tell them to write and to broadcast. After having accepted the Bush administration policy of embedding journalists with American troops, Iraq was then ignored and disappeared from the consciousness of this country. Recent events have made Iraq a focus of attention once again and the news is still terrible for the people of that country.“The history of American and Saudi collusion to destabilize that region is a long and sad tale.”
ISIS, translated into English as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is the latest head of the fundamentalist Jihadi hydra created by the United States and gulf monarchies. ISIS is making huge territorial gains as the Iraqi army collapses in its wake. The history of American and Saudi collusion to destabilize that region is a long and sad tale. For many years these partners in crime have left a trail of death and devastation in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria as well as in Iraq.
Now the propaganda that Americans have been fed by two presidents and their helpers in the press is falling apart. They have to explain why Iran, a country depicted as our mortal enemy, may end up saving the Iraqi government. Iran has also been devastated by United States sanctions and its very destruction has been openly advocated by Israel and numerous administrations and members of Congress. Iran is now more of a “frenemy” because it supports Iraqi president Maliki against the ISIS threat.
After the deaths of one million people, after the hellish destruction of Fallujah, after the babies deformed by depleted uranium, Iraqis are again fleeing from the disaster of American intervention. As politicians are trotted out to defend their lies and the likes of Tony Blair attempt to deflect responsibility for their evil acts, it is important to remember the extent of the decades long crime.The press and politicians may speak in terms of the 5,000 American lives lost or the astronomical sums spent, but it is the ongoing war of American terror that must be remembered.
The depiction of George W. Bush as the villain of bad judgment and lies is certainly true, but America’s violence and commission of war crimes should be the central issue when Iraq is discussed so that Democratic Party imperialists aren’t permitted to do likewise.
“They have to explain why Iran, a country depicted as our mortal enemy, may end up saving the Iraqi government.”
Very few Americans remember that millions of people around the world foresaw the calamity and acted to try and prevent it. Not only were there huge protests in many nations but there was serious discussion of the extent of American criminality. The World Tribunal on Iraq held a series of meetings from November 2003 through June 2005 in New York, London, Rome, Lisbon, Stockholm, Mumbai, Tunis, Hiroshima, Beirut and other cities.
The culminating session in Istanbul produced a Declaration of the Jury of Conscience which spelled out in stark detail the violations of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremburg Principles. The tribunal spared no one, condemning the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom for acts of aggression and the United Nations Security Council for its inaction. One of the tribunal’s charges is particularly prescient:“Engaging in policies to wage permanent war on sovereign nations. Syria and Iran have already been declared as potential targets. In declaring a ‘global war on terror,’ the US government has given itself the exclusive right to use aggressive military force against any target of its choosing. Ethnic and religious hostilities are being fueled in different parts of the world.”
As the politicians and pundits scramble for cover remember the words of the tribunal. Barack Obama knows that Bush was condemned more for sending American troops to fight overseas than for the substance of what he did. Obama can’t be allowed to use ISIS and similar groups to attack Syria without also paying a price. Democrats can’t defend Obama’s destruction of Libya or carrying out “kill list” assassinations without being called out as complicit as the neo-cons of the Bush era. Ultimately they are all neo-cons and the so-called “mistake” of the Iraq war will be revisited again unless American imperialism is called just that.Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.com. .
In pre-trial hearing, judge admits all transcripts, tapes of 911 calls and Wafer statements at prosecution’s request
Defense alleges Wafer “feared” Black teen, wants to insert their witness Dr. Spitz during prosecution case
By Diane Bukowski
June 21, 2014
DETROIT—Renisha McBride’s mother Monica McBride sat quietly crying and rocking slightly side to side, while her father Walter Ray Simmons at one point leaned over and put his head in his hands, during a motion hearing June 20 on the second-degree-murder, manslaughter trial of her killer, Theodore Wafer.
Dearborn Heights resident Wafer, 54, sat in the row behind them with a smug smile on his face before the case was called, in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Margaret Hathaway.
Wafer admittedly opened his locked, solid front door and used a 12-guage shotgun to shoot 19-year-old McBride in the face as she stood on his porch in a light blue hoodie, unarmed and evidently dazed after an automobile accident half a mile away. Many have compared the killing of the young Detroiter to that of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, contending racism was at the root of both killings.
Wafer did not call 911 until after shooting the teen, reporting only, “Uh, yes, I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun, banging on my door. I live at 16812 W. Outer Drive. Thank you.”
Wayne County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Timothy Kenny earlier granted a defense motion to recuse the first judge selected, Judge Qiana Lillard, who is Black, on a claim that she had ties with members of the Prosecutor’s office. Kenny is a member of the ultraconservative Federalist Society.
Judge Hathaway heard five motions filed by the defense and prosecution, with remaining motions to be heard Thursday June 28.
“The jury pool’s minds have been poisoned by arguments that aren’t the facts,” Wafer’s defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter contended, arguing for a jury questionnaire to be sent out prior to the trial opening July 21, 2014. Hathaway denied the motion, ruling that it would duplicate “voir dire” questioning of the jury in person.
She granted a motion by the prosecution in which the defense concurred, to have a jury pool of at least 200 instead of the 50-60 usually empaneled. The trial is expected to last three weeks and include at least 35 witnesses.
Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Terry Anderson argued strongly against an unusual defense motion to have their expert witness, Dr. Werner Spitz, testify immediately after Wayne County Assistant Medical Examiner Kilak Kesha. Kesha gave lengthy testimony during Wafer’s preliminary exam that Wafer “pulpified” the teen-ager’s brain, from a likely distance of three feet, with numerous shotgun pellets, shooting through a screen door.
“It is our case, and our burden (of proof),” Anderson said. “We should not have our case interrupted with the defense’s strategy. It would be overwhelming to the jury to have two technical witnesses testify back to back. Dr. Spitz should testify as part of the case in chief of the defense.”
Judge Hathaway discounted a defense argument that Spitz’s time was constrained due to the limited availability of his office manager, who Carpenter said accompanies him everywhere. Judge Hathaway said she would rule on the motion at the hearing June 28.
Spitz, now 88, is a world-renowned forensics pathologist but did not participate in the initial autopsy.
Judge Hathaway granted the prosecution’s motion to admit video/audiotapes and transcripts of three 911 emergency calls, two from Carmen Beasley of Detroit, who called 911 after McBride’s car crashed in front of her house, and the one from Wafer after he shot the teen.
The prosecution also moved to admit audio/videotapes and transcripts of Wafer’s conversations with Dearborn Heights police while he was in their car after the shooting, and of a statement he made to them at their headquarters that night. Carpenter objected to admission of the transcripts.
Anderson said the prosecution would likely use the evidence to impeach Wafer if he testifies. The prosecution objected to the admission of the police headquarters videotape during the preliminary exam on the basis that Wafer himself was present and could be cross-examined.
Twentieth District Court Judge David Turfe agreed, and barred the showing of the videotape at that time.
Carpenter said, “I strongly object to the admission of the transcripts . . .this case is about what Theodore Wafer felt like at the time he shot [McBride]. In the police car he kept saying “Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod.”
She claimed the transcripts would not show the fear in his voice. Then she asked that the jury only review any tapes in the courtroom itself, not the jury room.
Judge Hathaway admitted both the transcripts and audio/videotapes.
She said, “The jury will have the opportunity to look at and hear the tapes and review the transcripts as often as they want.”
Daily media coverage of the hearing focused largely on Carpenter’s claim that Wafer feared for his life, including a Detroit Free Press headline, “Dearborn Heights porch shooter’s defense says case is all about fear.However, testimony at the preliminary exam showed that Wafer had to go into a back bedroom to get his shotgun, return to the front door, open it, and then shoot McBride in the face although there was no evidence she was armed.
In binding McBride over on charges of Second-Degree murder, Manslaughter – Death By Weapon Aimed with Intent But Without Malice, and Felony Firearms, Judge Turfe questioned why Wafer didn’t call 911 BEFORE opening the door if he feared for his life.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy had to order the Dearborn Heights police, who first released Wafer without charges, to do a more thorough investigation of the case. They did a second crime scene review Nov. 11, during which they discovered a key piece of evidence, the perforated front door screen, in Wafer’s basement.
To date, Wafer has not spent a day in jail for McBride’s killing, despite the fact that bond is not normally issued in such cases. Second-degree murder is a capital charge carrying up to life in prison.
Next week, motions will include one for a change of venue from Wayne County due to the defense’s claim that publicity on the case has featured charges of racism. Since the abolition of Recorders’ Court in 1999 by the state legislature, however, the majority of Wayne County jury panels have been white.
Out-state legislators voted to abolish the court, which drew its jurors and judges solely from Detroit, in the wake of a Recorders’ Court jury verdict that two white police officers, Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn, were guilty of second-degree murder in the 1992 beating death of Malice Green, a Black Detroiter.
The defense is additionally moving to admit evidence about crime statistics in Wafer’s Dearborn Heights neighborhood, and text messages, photos, and school records of Renisha McBride. The defense claims they show McBride, who had never been convicted of any crime, had an aggressive side.
Her aunt Bernita Spinks, however, told VOD during the preliminary exam, “Renisha didn’t rip and run in the streets. She didn’t hang out at bars. She was a homebody, a sweetheart who stayed to herself. She was loving and kindhearted. While other people her age would be home sleeping, Renisha would be at her job [as a temporary Ford worker] at 4 a.m.”
After the pre-trial hearing, Spinks told Channel Four news, “There’s a phone, you even opened the door. You took the time to load the gun. It’s all right there.” Regarding the jury, she said, “You have a mind, you have eyes, you should know right from wrong. All I’m going to say is the right decision will be made.”
VOTE NO! DETROIT RETIREES HOLD MAJORITY OF BANKRUPTCY CLAIMS, CAN STALL PLAN WHICH VIOLATES CH9 RULES
Retirees hold $7.4 billion in claims, other “impaired” classes: $3.8 billion
Retiree groups, unions sell out Detroit while Puerto Rico threatens general strike
By Diane Bukowski
June 17, 2014
DETROIT – A VOD analysis of Detroit bankruptcy claims shows that Detroit retirees hold the majority of votes on the current Plan of Adjustment (POA), and can at least stall drastic cuts to their pensions, annuity savings plans, and health care benefits with a “NO” vote.
“Impaired” classes who face losses are the only ones allowed to vote, according to Chapter 9 statutes. Votes are weighted according to claim amounts. If the total vote represents more than half the amount of impaired claims, it prevails, whether “yes” or “no.”
Retirees hold a total of $7.4 billion in Class 10, 11 and 12 claims (Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System, Detroit General Retirement System, and OPEB benefits), according to figures in the POA. Other impaired classes hold a total of $3.8 billion. These include Certificates of Participation (COPS) investors, Unlimited and Limited Tax General Obligation (ULTGO AND LGTBO) bondholders, and Downtown Development Authority claims. (Click on DB Claims chart for list of classes and claims.)
Unimpaired bondholders cannot vote on the plan. They include Department of Water and Sewerage, General Obligation, HUD, and Parking Department creditors, who will be paid a total of at least $5.6 billion if the majority of those in the impaired classes vote “YES.”
“I say NO, NO TO ALL OF IT,” retiree Gloria Jones told VOD. “I’m not giving up my right to fight in court at a later date. It’s unconstitutional, all of it.”Jones said she has not even received a ballot yet, although she retired on duty disability in 1991, and transitioned to regular retirement in 2010, calling into question the accuracy of the balloting procedures. This author, a retiree, has received a separate ballot for OPEB benefits (Class 12), while others she has talked to have not.
Add to that the chaos caused by the re-issue of at least 3,000 ballots because they had incorrect figures.
“I feel equally compelled to caution you that whether you vote “Yes” or “No”, the honest counting of that vote is essential,” mayoral candidate Tom Barrow wrote. “Only blind trust in Snyder and Orr would cause you to be so trusting as to not be suspicious where the people counting your life altering ballot are doing it all the way in California…where you, your friends and interested folks are NOT…why? . . the group doing the counting [KCC] is one recommended by the very law firm [Jones Day] which brought you to this unwarranted bankruptcy and has a long routine business relationship with the law firm.”
Regardless of the vote’s outcome, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has the ability to “cram down” the plan if even one impaired class accepts it. So far, deals have been worked out with impaired creditors ULTGO bondholders, who have agreed to receive 74 percent of their claim, $388 million, while COPS swapholders have agreed to $85 million. Orr has a proposal in the plan to pay 40 percent of the entire COPS outstanding debt of $150 billion.
“DRCEA sold our asses out,” retiree Jones declared, referring to Shirley Lightsey’s Detroit Retired City Employees Association. Despite the power retirees hold, it is astounding that the leadership of the retirement systems and unions is caving in to Orr.
Even if Orr opts to “cram down” the POA, unions across Puerto Rico have shown what can be done. There, they have threatened a general strike like the one they carried out in 2009 in opposition to the imposition of a Detroit-style austerity plan, aided also by Jones Day Puerto Rican teachers conducted a two-day strike in February. In April, the Puerto Rican Supreme Court struck down cuts in their pensions. Rotating strikes by other unions including bus drivers and ferry workers are hitting constantly in preparation for the general strike.
But lily-livered leaders of retiree associations, the retirement systems, and the unions in Detroit are recommending retirees vote “Yes” on a plan that has no guarantees for their life-time support whatever.
Both the DRCEA and the Detroit Retired Police and Firefighters Association (DPFFA), neither of which represent all retirees, are recommending a “Yes” vote. Denton’s, the law firm representing the court-appointed Official Committee of Retirees, has also weighed in for a “yes” vote. (Not surprisingly, AFSCME’s Ed McNeil shoved Rose Roots, president of AFSCME Retirees Sub-Chapter 98, aside to sit on that committee.)
The city’s two retirement systems are on the verge of recommending a Yes vote, as has been demonstrated during their two general meetings, which one retiree termed “dog and pony shows.”
This is despite the fact that the retirement systems and unions have seven lawsuits against Rhodes’ bankruptcy eligibility ruling pending at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, backed by amicus briefs from the largest pension system in the country, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS), the AARP, and others. A “Yes” vote allegedly means giving up any and all appeal rights.
So far, Rhodes says, at least 600 individuals “not represented by attorneys” have filed objections to the POA before the deadline of July 11. Rhodes, however, set up oral hearings only for those filed prior to June 10, on July 15, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., at the U.S. Federal Courthouse, Rm 712, 231 W. Lafayette in downtown Detroit. (Click on Court hearing docket5264 ObjectionToPOA for Rhodes’ full order.)
Rhodes said in his original order regarding objections that they must cite specific parts of the Bankruptcy Code.
VOD has compiled the following lengthy list of code violations, which will be submitted to the court.
11 U.S. CODE § 109 – WHO MAY BE A DEBTOR
An entity may be a debtor under chapter 9 of this title if and only if such entity—
(1) is a municipality:
(3) is insolvent;
(4) desires to effect a plan to adjust such debts.
(C) is unable to negotiate with creditors because such negotiation is impracticable.
- Kevyn Orr is not a municipality, but an appointed agent of the state of Michigan.
- Detroit is not insolvent according to the Nov 2013 report from DEMOS. None of the three major witnesses at the eligibility hearings were expert witnesses, so were not qualified to testify on insolvency.
- Neither the people of Detroit, nor any elected official representing them, have indicated their desire to file bankruptcy.
- A council representing all the city’s unions negotiated a plan to save Detroit hundreds of millions of dollars with Mayor Dave Bing in 2012, but Gov. Snyder prevented the City Council from voting to approve the plan.
11 U.S. Code § 903 – RESERVATION OF STATE POWER TO CONTROL MUNICIPALITIES
This chapter does not limit or impair the power of a State to control, by legislation or otherwise, a municipality of or in such State in the exercise of the political or governmental powers of such municipality, including expenditures for such exercise, but—
State law prescribing a method of composition of indebtedness of such municipality may not bind any creditor that does not consent to such composition; and
(2) a judgment entered under such a law may not bind a creditor that does not consent to such composition.
- Judge Rhodes evidently used this statute to recognize the Emergency Manager Law, PA 436, but it is still subject to ongoing litigation in a higher court, the U.S. District Court.
- Additionally, hundreds of thousands of residents of the majority-Black Michigan cities under the control of Emergency Managers, as well as 53 percent of the state electorate re: PA 4, have expressed their opposition to the entirety of these EM laws.
- THEREFORE NO DETROIT RESIDENT, WORKER OR RETIREE should be bound by ANY PROVISION OF PA 436, or by any act of dictator Kevyn Orr, appointed under PA 436.
11 U.S. CODE § 904 – LIMITATION ON JURISDICTION AND POWERS OF COURT
Notwithstanding any power of the court, unless the debtor consents or the plan so provides, the court may not, by any stay, order, or decree, in the case or otherwise, interfere with—
(1) any of the political or governmental powers of the debtor;
(2) any of the property or revenues of the debtor; or
(3) the debtor’s use or enjoyment of any income-producing property.
- Judge Rhodes evidently has interpreted this key section of Chapter 9 to mean the debtor has consented to such alterations, recognizing Kevyn Orr as the debtor.
- Litigation on that matter is pending in higher courts including U.S District Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. As Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman shouted out at one hearing, “JONES DAY [Kevyn Orr’s allegedly previous employer] IS NOT THE CITY OF DETROIT!” No legal representative of the city has consented to the massive dismemberment of Detroit taking place under Chapter 9.
11 U.S. CODE § 921 – PETITION AND PROCEEDINGS RELATING TO PETITION
(c)After any objection to the petition, the court, after notice and a hearing, may dismiss the petition if the debtor did not file the petition in good faith or if the petition does not meet the requirements of this title.
- Kevyn Orr did NOT file the petition in good faith, and Judge Rhodes is not hearing the case in good faith.
- The Detroit bankruptcy was planned by various banks, the law firms of Jones Day, Ernst & Young, Miller Buckfire/Stifel and others hired by Gov. Rick Snyder as early as 2011, long before the filing, as proven by a lengthy list of emails among the parties. It was deliberately filed five minutes before Michigan 30th Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina issued an order barring Gov. Snyder from approving the bankruptcy filing.
- Judge Steven Rhodes chaired a forum on Chapter 9 and Emergency Managers on Oct. 10, 2012, in which five out of six speakers were supporters of both, including EM trainers and a co-author of Public Act 4, as well as Charles Moore of Conway McKenzie, a chief NON-EXPERT witness during the eligibility trial. ORR SHOULD RECUSE HIMSELF DUE TO THIS BLATANT CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
11 U.S. CODE § 922 – AUTOMATIC STAY OF ENFORCEMENT OF CLAIMS AGAINST THE DEBTOR
(a) A petition filed under this chapter operates as a stay, in addition to the stay provided by section 362 of this title, applicable to all entities, of–(1) the commencement or continuation, including the issuance or employment of process, of a judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against an officer or inhabitant of the debtor that seeks to enforce a claim against the debtor; and (2) the enforcement of a lien on or arising out of taxes or assessments owed to the debtor.
- Judge Rhodes stayed all claims not only against the “debtor,” but against state officials including Gov. Snyder, the State Treasurer, and other state officials NOT COVERED UNDER THIS PROVISION, the actual perpetrators of the bad-faith bankruptcy filing.
11 U.S. CODE § 930 – DISMISSAL
(a)After notice and a hearing, the court may dismiss a case under this chapter for cause, including—
(b)The court shall dismiss a case under this chapter if confirmation of a plan under this chapter is refused.
Refusal means a vote by “impaired” parties whose total claims constitute more than half of impaired claims. As noted at the beginning of this article, city retiree claims total $7.4 Billion. Claims by “impaired” bondholders and banks total approximately $2.2 Billion, giving retirees the upper hand if they VOTE NO. Click on GRAND THEFT OR Grand Bargain 2 to read Concerned Detroit Citizens, Active Employees and Retirees’ summary on issues in bankrupty.
- The City proposes to pay banks and bondholders as a first priority out of the general fund. Nothing is allocated for retirees out of the general fund until at least 2023. The “Grand Bargain” from the DIA and State amounts to a piddling $716 million, is not set to be finalized until Dec. 31, 2014, and states directly that it is NOT BINDING ON THE PARTIES. In exchange the Detroit City Council just voted to give away its entire art collection, worth billions, to a private trust. WHO’S ZOOMING WHO?
11 U.S. CODE § 943 – CONFIRMATION
The court shall confirm the plan if—the plan complies with the provisions of this chapter; all amounts to be paid by the debtor or by any person for services or expenses in the case or incident to the plan have been fully disclosed and are reasonable;
the debtor is not prohibited by law from taking any action necessary to carry out the plan;
(7) the plan is in the best interests of creditors and is feasible.
- Numerous provisions violated as indicated.
- The payment of at least $11.9 BILLION to the banks from the city’s general fund, and $0 to retirees from that fund, IS NOT REASONABLE.
- PA 436, under which Kevyn Orr operates, is still subject to ongoing litigation. The U.S. Constitution prohibits government by unelected dictators.
- The plan is in the best interests of the banks and corporations, not the interests of city residents, workers and retirees.
11 U.S. CODE § 1129 – CONFIRMATION OF PLAN
(a)The court shall confirm a plan only if all of the following requirements are met:
(3)The plan has been proposed in good faith and not by any means forbidden by law.
(B) the proponent of the plan has disclosed the identity of any insider that will be employed or retained by the reorganized debtor, and the nature of any compensation for such insider.
(10) If a class of claims is impaired under the plan, at least one class of claims that is impaired under the plan has accepted the plan, determined without including any acceptance of the plan by any insider.
(11) Confirmation of the plan is not likely to be followed by the liquidation, or the need for further financial reorganization, of the debtor or any successor to the debtor under the plan, unless such liquidation or reorganization is proposed in the plan.
(13) The plan provides for the continuation after its effective date of payment of all retiree benefits, as that term is defined in section 1114 of this title, at the level established pursuant to subsection (e)(1)(B) or (g) of section 1114 of this title, at any time prior to confirmation of the plan, for the duration of the period the debtor has obligated itself to provide such benefits.
(b) (1) . . . the court, on request of the proponent of the plan, shall confirm the plan notwithstanding the requirements of such paragraph if the plan does not discriminate unfairly, and is fair and equitable, with respect to each class of claims or interests that is impaired under, and has not accepted, the plan.
- Not proposed in good faith as indicated above; PA 436 forbidden by U.S. Constitution.
- Snyder, Orr, law firms not disclosed as insider perpetrators of bad-faith bankruptcy filing. Insider role in acceptance of swaps agreement by UBS AG, BOA; acceptance of 74 percent payment to Unlimited General Obligation bondholders; state itself has two votes, not disclosed in list of claims.
- It is doubtful whether the City of Detroit will survive as an independent municipality after implementation of plan.
- “Retiree benefits” refers to health care obligations; they have been cut drastically prior to the confirmation of the plan.Under the new plan, there is absolutely no guarantee they will ever be paid. See 11 U.S. Code § 1114 – Payment of insurance benefits to retired employees. (below this Section.)
- Plan clearly discriminates against city workers and retirees, the majority of whom are Black, as well as city residents, through such measures as the proposed takeover of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which will lead to higher rates, It has already led to tens of thousands of water shut-offs, threatening the life and well-being of city residents and their families.
11 U.S. CODE § 1114 – PAYMENT OF INSURANCE BENEFITS TO RETIRED EMPLOYEES
(a) the term “retiree benefits” means payments to any entity or person for the purpose of providing or reimbursing payments for retired employees and their spouses and dependents, for medical, surgical, or hospital care benefits, or benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability, or death under any plan, fund, or program (through the purchase of insurance or otherwise) maintained or established in whole or in part by the debtor prior to filing a petition commencing a case under this title.
(d)The court, upon a motion by any party in interest, and after notice and a hearing, shall order the appointment of a committee of retired employees if the debtor seeks to modify or not pay the retiree benefits or if the court otherwise determines that it is appropriate . . .
(e)(1)Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, the debtor in possession . . .shall timely pay and shall not modify any retiree benefits, except that—the court, on motion of the trustee or authorized representative, and after notice and and a hearing, may order modification of such payments . . .the trustee and the authorized representative of the recipients of those benefits may agree to modification of such payments, after which such benefits as modified shall continue to be paid by the trustee.
(f) (1) Subsequent to filing a petition and prior to filing an application seeking modification of the retiree benefits, the trustee shall—
(A) make a proposal to the authorized representative of the retirees, based on the most complete and reliable information available at the time of such proposal, which provides for those necessary modifications in the retiree benefits that are necessary to permit the reorganization of the debtor and assures that all creditors, the debtor and all of the affected parties are treated fairly and equitably; and
(k) (1)Upon the filing of an application for modifying retiree benefits, the court shall schedule a hearing to be held not later than fourteen days after the date of the filing of such application. All interested parties may appear and be heard at such hearing. Adequate notice shall be provided to such parties at least ten days before the date of such hearing. The court may extend the time for the commencement of such hearing for a period not exceeding seven days where the circumstances of the case, and the interests of justice require such extension, or for additional periods of time to which the trustee and the authorized representative agree.
- THE CITY HAS REPEATEDLY CUT RETIREE HEALTH BENEFITS DURING THE TERM OF THIS BANKRUPTCY, PRIOR TO CONFIRMATION OF THE PLAN. WHEN DID THEY HOLD A HEARING ABOUT THIS?
- How are retirees being treated fairly and equitably when their insurance costs have skyrocketed, some to $500 and more a month?
- WHERE IS OUR HEARING ON THE NEW PLAN?
- Under the 4th Plan of Adjustment, retiree benefits will come from two VEBA’s (Voluntary Employee Benefit Associations) which are nothing but bank trusts which DO NOT GUARANTEE payment of ANY health benefits (stated clearly in the POA). The Court-appointed Official Committee of Retirees (OCR), the Detroit Retired City Employees Association (DRCEA), and the Detroit Police and Firefighters Association will sit on the VEBA boards. This opportunity to make money off the VEBA’s clearly motivated the OCR, DRCEA and DPFFA endorsements of the Plan.
June 4, 2014
The term “tipping point” used to be synonymous with white flight from the cities. Now that Blacks are being forced from high priced urban neighborhoods, what is the “tipping point” for maintaining the Black urban presence? “How many upscale, mostly white people does it take to make a neighborhood, and ultimately whole cities – like San Francisco – unaffordable and downright hostile to Black habitation?”
Back in the early Sixties, sociologists began to use the term “tipping point” to describe white response to the entrance of Blacks into formerly white neighborhoods. The raw statistics showed clearly that such “tipping points” existed, although sociologists argued about the dynamics of precisely when white exits turned into sudden, wholesale flight. Certainly, real estate agents and developers understood the phenomenon, having set it in motion in city after city in the Forties and Fifties in order to make a killing in the market. So-called “block-busters” played on racist hysteria, buying up white properties at rock bottom and selling them at inflated prices to Blacks desperate to escape densely-packed ghettos.
The churning of neighborhoods generated billions in profits and changed the face of America in a remarkably short period of time. Ultimately, whites’ refusal to share urban space with Blacks created an American racial and economic geography unique in the world, in which the Black and brown poor resided in hollowed out, shrunken, capital-deprived central cities surrounded by a belt of suburban white wealth – the exact opposite of the historical world model of urban development.
America, which invented modern white racism through the establishment of Black chattel slavery, had once again been reshaped through the socio-economic dynamics of white racism.
For more than half a century, racial tipping points referred primarily to the behavior of white people, a predictor of white flight, creating new spaces for Black habitation in the cities. But, racism is irrational, as were the socio-economic landscape created by white racism, with whites traveling ridiculous distances to find racially exclusive environments at affordable prices. The corporate class longed for the centralized amenities that only big cities can provide, and finance capitalists looked forward to trillions in added values if only the Blacks and browns could be evicted from urban real estate.
“It is more like a purge, an ethnic cleansing.”
Finance capital, corporate muscle, and the political parties that serve them have set in motion the new phenomenon of Black flight from the cities, and white return. Unlike white flight of the previous era, the current Black exodus is mainly involuntary and economic. In reality, it is more like a purge, an ethnic cleansing based on the reality that, in a racist society, the very presence of substantial numbers of Black people brings down the value of land and other assets.
Today, the question in city after city is, What is the tipping point for maintaining Black populations? How many upscale, mostly white people does it take to make a neighborhood, and ultimately whole cities – like San Francisco – unaffordable and downright hostile to Black habitation? In Harlem and elsewhere in New York City, the tipping point has clearly been passed, as it has in Washington DC, and will soon occur in Atlanta. Blacks are under siege – up against the tipping point – in Chicago. Even in cities such as Baltimore, where Black majorities make wholesale purges impractical – for the moment – targeted Black neighborhoods are rapidly tipping.
Outrageously, the governor of Michigan proposes to bring in a steady stream of upscale immigrants to dilute the 82 percent Black population of Detroit.
And yet, there is nothing approaching a national Black consensus on a response – which means the political tipping point may have already passed, and the purge of the cities will continue, without effective Black resistance.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
By Shea Howell
(submitted to VOD by Anita Peek of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development)
June 17, 2013
Week 63 of the occupation
Lennette Williams and her daughter Mailauni first came to public attention in 1998. Ms. Williams then challenged the Chief Judge of Wayne County Probate Court Milton Mack because of his mishandling of her $30 million settlement with Henry Ford Hospital. The money was intended to provide for her and Mailauni because of complications that had arisen during the birth of Mailauni, 16 years earlier.
Their case became a symbol of the corruption endemic in Probate court. Over the next decade stories abounded of lawyers and judges lining their pockets at the expense of clients who were often unable to defend themselves.In a thoughtful article in 2002 then Metro Times reporter Curt Guyette did an extensive expose of the corruption surrounding probate court. In the course of this article he quotes Ms. Williams saying, “I resent to have to keep coming through this court and be ripped off. It is wrong. I have told the truth. I have papers proving what I am saying and you have constantly turned a blind ear to it.”
Last week, Ms. Williams not only found herself in court, but in jail. She was stripped of the guardianship of her daughter Mailauni, now a young adult, who sheriffs took from their home in late May. Judge Kathryn George ordered Ms. Williams locked up for 10 days for contempt of court.
It is hard to imagine why Ms. Williams would have anything other than contempt for a court process that has repeatedly placed her family at risk. Currently they are facing the possible loss of their home.
Without explanation, Judge George refused to accept the recommendation of the estate trustee, Walter Sakowski, that Monique Williams, Mailauni’s older sister, be granted custody. Mailauni [VOD: was first placed in a group home and is now under the guardianship of Attorney Mary Rowan, who immediately removed her from that location.]
In contrast to the intense battling going on in court, Guyette also describes the love and support Ms. Williams gives her children. As a single mother raising three children, often on income that was disrupted by court procedures, she managed to provide a home of love and affection. No one has ever alleged that she was anything other than a loving, supportive mother.
The same cannot be said for the system of group homes to which her daughter has been sent. Just last month the vicious beating of a young woman at Strathmoor Manor by a woman charged with her care made national news. No one thinks this was an isolated case.
Reports of the chaotic court proceedings emphasized the disrespect shown the family by the Judge. Voice of Detroit reported: “The judge’s demeanor showed that she was a racist,” said Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, who has worked with the Williams family for 20 years. “Her behavior was offensive to Lennette, her attorney, and all the Black people in the courtroom. It was unbecoming a judge. I’ve seen some wicked judges, but she is the worst. She crushed Mailauni by taking her away from her mother. We are going to ask for a federal investigation of this matter, and there needs to be a forensic audit of the Williams estate.”
The abuses in this case echo those of Maryanne Godboldo who defied a SWAT team in 2011 over her decision to cease administering a drug to her daughter that she thought harmful. Charges have been dismissed three separate times against Ms. Godboldo, who still faces a court hearing.
Ms. Williams is an original member of the Coalition Against Police Brutality. Edwards and Arnetta Grable, Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, and Elaine Steele and Anita Peek of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development support her.
Almost everyone in Detroit has a story to tell of abuses suffered at the hands of arbitrary uses of authority. Today, Ms. Williams symbolizes not only the abuses of a probate system, but the assault by unaccountable authorities on all that we love and value.
Lennette Williams given 10 days for “contempt of court,” loses guardianship of daughter Mailauni, access to birth lawsuit estate
Grosse Pointe Farms cops, sheriffs seized Mailauni from home May 21
State Supreme Court earlier removed Judge Kathryn George as Macomb Probate Court head for likely estate fraud
By Diane Bukowski
June 15, 2014
DETROIT – Mailauni Williams begged to hug her mother Lennette Williams and her sister before Judge Kathryn George ordered the mother jailed 10 days for contempt during a chaotic, hostile hearing June 13 in the chambers of Wayne County Probate Court Chief Judge Milton Mack.
“I am her daughter,” Mailauni cried out from the audience to the judge. “I just came to give her respect.” She told the judge “I cried,” when she was taken away from her mother during a raid May 22 by Grosse Pointe Farms police and deputy sheriffs.
She got up and hugged her mother during the hearing after she heard the judge berate her. Her temporary guardian, Pamela Reid of Faith Connections, took her out of the courtroom later so that she would not have to watch sheriffs put her mother under arrest.
Williams has been her child’s guardian for over 20 years, but George stripped her of that role. She also denied her access to a $30 million lifetime support settlement paid by Henry Ford Hospital for birth trauma that left Mailauni with cerebral palsy and her mother, now 62, with physical injuries.
Under Mack, that estate had already been substantially stripped by attorney fees, with mother and daughter relegated to monthly payments at the court’s whim. Investigative reporter Curt Guyette did a comprehensive expose of the family’s ongoing troubles in Wayne County Probate Court which was published in the Metro Times in 2002. (See link to “Mother and Child Rebellion” in “Related Stories.”)
Without access to those funds, Williams is in danger of losing the home she purchased for herself and Mailauni in Grosse Pointe Farms. She has been a full-time caregive for her daughter since her birth.
George, blatantly hostile towards Williams and her attorney, denied an alternate petition for guardianship from Mailauni’s sister Monique Williams, despite estate trustee Walter Sakowski’s recommendation in favor of it. She then appointed a white guardian ad litem, Mary S. Rowan. George said she would not consider any alternative for at least one year.
“The judge’s demeanor showed that she was a racist,” said Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, who has worked with the Williams family for 20 years. “Her behavior was offensive to Lennette, her attorney, and all the Black people in the courtroom. It was unbecoming a judge. I’ve seen some wicked judges, but she is the worst. She crushed Maulauni by taking her away from her mother. We are going to ask for a federal investigation of this matter, and there needs to be a forensic audit of the Williams estate.”
Mailauni’s sister testified that she was petitioning for guardianship only as an alternative to the temporary guardianship of Faith Connections, enacted when Mailauni was seized. She told Folmar during the hearing that she felt Mailauni was safe with her mother.
But George said, “Lennette Williams has caused tremendous difficulty. She ran up estate bills, interfered with police and APS, and responded to the court not in a lawful manner. . . She is one of worst guardians I have ever seen from the standpoint of the court, based alone on what she has posted on the house, based on everything the court has witnessed and experienced.”
George then authorized MORE legal fees from the estate at the rate of $75 an hour to one Robert Kent.
Reid, who brought Mailauni to the hearing, testified about the young woman’s seizure from her home in Grosse Pointe Farms May 22 by carloads of city cops and sheriffs.
“She is a sweetheart,” Reid said of Mailauni. “She said she didn’t want to go anywhere. She also asked for her puppy and showed me how she taught him to say ‘I love you.’ She wanted me to speak to the police to be sure her mom was safe because there was a hole in the door.”
Police kicked in the door after Adult Protective Services (APS) worker Hiram Williams went to the home, ostensibly for a “wellness visit,” according to testimony. Mailauni, however, was at the home of family friend Deborah Edwards at the time.
Lennette Williams testified she called Edwards to have Mailauni brought home when the APS worker appeared. Edwards told VOD that the APS worker actually left the home for two to three hours at the time, saying he was going to lunch. But he drafted a court order to seize Mailauni during that time, and returned with Grosse Pointe Farms police and sheriffs to take her. Police invaded the home, kicking down the door and pointing guns according to witness accounts.
“She didn’t want to die,” Folmar said. “My client wasn’t served with any order or warrant.”
Folmar is also the criminal defense attorney for Maryanne Godboldo, who stood off a SWAT team of Detroit police in 2011 for hours before they seized her daughter, to force her to take the dangerous drug Risperdal. Two judges have dismissed criminal charges against Godboldo three times, but she faces another court hearing June 25, 2014 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Gregory Bill, who dismissed the charges earlier. In the interim, a hearing was held May 19 in front of Chief Judge Timothy Kenny, evidently to reinstate the charges after 36th District Court Judge Ronald Giles dismissed them again.
George gave Faith Connections temporary custody of Mailauni after her seizure. Reid took Mailauni to a group home on East Grand Boulevard. The morning after the June 13 hearing, Rowan went to the group home and removed Mailauni yet again, over Reid’s protests that she was safe and loved there. Her current residence is unknown.
“When the police and APS show up, they have all the authority,” George contended, citing Williams’ alleged failure to allow them in to her home and, earlier, to produce her daughter’s medical records as cause for finding her in contempt. She also showed photos of signs on Williams door threatening trespassers. She said she originally intended to jail Williams for 30 days.
Folmar objected to George’s presentation of her court clerk as an unsworn witness. The clerk read an email from the APS worker, who was not present at the hearing for cross-examination. Folmar also said she had the right to cross-examine police who seized Mailauni, who were not in the court, and to present witnesses on Williams’ behalf.
“There wasn’t any warrant or signed order, and they never showed one to the mother,” Folmar told VOD afterwards, “She can plaster her house with whatever signs she wants. They’ve been illegally kicking in her door for years. She didn’t have a fair chance to defend herself at that hearing. Judge George told me to shut up and sit down when I tried to advise my client in order to protect her.”
George held Folmar in contempt of court twice during the hearing, fining her $150.
“She clearly wanted to put Attorney Folmar in jail, too,” Squires commented.
At the outset of the hearing, Folmar, newly retained after many hearings where Williams had no attorney, asked for a new beginning.
“I spoke with my client and a team of people helping her,” Folmar said. “Despite [disorganized] conditions at the home, Maulauni was never in any danger. Ms. Williams just needed some help. This is a child who has known none other closer than her mom for her entire life. I’m here to assist, bridge the gap in communications, speak on behalf of Ms. Williams, because she believed her voice wasn’t being heard. I would respectfully ask the court to return Maulauni home, and provide whatever safeguards are necessary. Along with her team of loved ones, we will resolve the issues and protect the love between Maulauni and her mom.”
Family supporters present in court included Edwards and Arnetta Grable, both long-time friends of Williams, Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, who has worked with the family for over 20 years, Elaine Steele and Anita Peek of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, and Barbara Banks, whose daughter Starletta Banks lost custody of her three pre-school children in 2000. Banks said two of the children, now 18 and 19, went straight back home to their mother after aging out of the foster care system.
Folmar said she will file an emergency interlocutory appeal of George’s orders to the state Court of Appeals.
It is unclear how Judge George was appointed to handle a Wayne County Probate Court case. She is listed as a Macomb County Probate Court Judge. The Michigan State Supreme Court removed her as Chief Judge of the Macomb Court in Jan. 2008 for reasons including her appointment of a high number of cases to one agency, ADDMS Guardianship Services, her high rate of abstenteeism, and her questionable service in the Genesee County Probate Court during her tenure in Macomb County.
After reviewing an audit of the Macomb Probate Court, former State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver wrote, “the Report confirms not only Judge George’s apparent inappropriate involvement with ADDMS guardian services, but also her apparent failure to properly oversee numerous guardianship cases. . . .The majority of the Report discusses the numerous problems in Judge George’s oversight of her cases, as well as Judge George’s questionable overuse of ADDMS.”
ADDMS was cited for double-billing estates and mismanaging their wards’ affairs, in numerous reports to the State Supreme Court Administrators’ Office filed by Macomb County Probate Court Register Donald Housey. Housey was later fired from his position and filed a whistleblowers’ lawsuit, which was dismissed by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. He died of a heart attack at the age of 70.
After her demotion, George was barred from handling any cases involving wills and estates. She has been investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office, and the state Judicial Tenure Commission, but no charges have been filed.
Among numerous reports of abuse in cases handled by George, the website for the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, at www.StopGuardianAbuse.org, includes the following report by a daughter regarding a guardian appointed by George for her mother.
“My mother’s medical appointments were cancelled; medications were altered or eliminated. She broke her wrist but did not receive medical treatment, resulting in loss of function and a permanent ‘forked hand’ deformity. She suffered from undiagnosed illnesses and “bleeding”, untreated infections, concussions, facial lacerations, a reported broken arm, unexplained bruises and abrupt, acute vision loss unrelated to the fact that her prescription glasses were taken away upon assertion that she could no longer read. Her handicapped permit was “lost”. Two Adult Protective Services claims were investigated. The Guardian failed to return calls concerning her urgent health matters, medical advocacy, care and living arrangements.”
State Court Administrator Carl Gromek said the Whall report cited other financial shenanigans by ADDMS.
“For example, in ‘numerous instances’ ADDMS sold wards’ vehicles without the bill of sale and a copy of the Secretary of State title. Real estate was sold at significantly less than market value,” Gromek said in an article in the Macomb Daily News. He added that ADDMS “sold the entire contents of a ward’s home and petitioned to sell the ward’s home at significantly less than market price.After the ward petitioned to have ADDMS removed as conservator, ADDMS refused to turn over any of the proceeds from the sale unless the ward removed his petition.”
VOD is contacting Mack’s office for an explanation of Judge George’s role on the Wayne County Probate Court bench.
Little information is available on the attorney George appointed for Mailauni, Mary S. Rowan, but she also displayed a hostile demeanor towards the Williams family’s supporters as they gathered outside the courtroom.
Judge George in her order gave Rowan blanket control of Mailauni’s life and finances, asking her to evaluate at the end of one year whether Mailauni could be placed with her sister
VOD found the following comments about Rowan on two websites.
“She grinds up the elderly and turns them into cash (4/21/12),” a Yahoo commenter on its “All Law Firms” site said. “Ms. Rowan seems very unconcerned with the care and welfare of the patients which she takes guardianship over seems to have issues answering the phone and often seems unavailable for the duties which she has pledged to take care of for her clients” (1/25/12). “The Attorney Mary Rowan is not very concerned about the family or the children of a family member that is an Incapacitated Individual. Sitting in court so many times and watching her talk to the family members are disheartening…. never really listening to the members and their loved ones.” (5/16/11).
Commenters on another site who rated her 1 out of 5 (top) said, “After looking for help and guidance, I turned to Mary Rowan for assistance. Not only was she very unprofessional and difficult to work with, she has very poor listening skills. After three attempts by phone with each call opening and ending with Mary either yelling, insulting or being disrespectful, I had to end a potential working relationship with her.” (12/20/13)
A second commenter said, “Ms. Rowan serves as a court appointed guardian for many patients in hospitals throughout the Metro area… she ducks phone calls does not seem to care anything about her clients nor her duties as a guardian and is abrasive and difficult to deal with all in all a real gem!”
The only positive rating of Rowan was a 4.4 out of 5 on a “peer review” website, limited to evaluations by other attorneys.
Related articles and documents:
(Thanks to David Scheid for alerting VOD to various of these articles.)
Mother and child rebellion Lennette Williams Metro Times, by Curt Guyette