City prosecutor: “They talked about living like animals because their water was shut off, and our ability to get a fair trial was thrown out.”
Hathaway: “If I hadn’t stopped the trial, you would have had a verdict today.”
“Can the people of Detroit even get justice?” Alesa Peatross-Smith
Over 45,000 household water shut-offs in Detroit so far this year, more coming under Great Lakes Water Authority
#Beatbackthebullies, #Waterisahumanright, #StopDetroitGenocide, #BlacklivesmatterDetroit, #OurWaterOurVote, #DAREA, #DetroitWater, #Stopwatershutoffs, #Right2Water, #saveourchildren, #StandUpNow, #StopWaronBlackAmerica, #Waterislife, #Stopcourtfascism
By Diane Bukowski
December 1, 2015
DETROIT – Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway today snatched a verdict on charges against water shut-offs protesters out of the hands of an all-Black jury in 36th District Court, halting the trial before District Court Judge Ruth Ann Garrett indefinitely. His ruling came in the wake of the Nov. 19 conviction of cop William Melendez by a majority-Black jury in Wayne County’s Third Circuit Court for nearly killing Black motorist Floyd Dent.
Closing arguments were to begin yesterday in front of Judge Garrett in the cases of Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman and Marian Kramer of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. They and five others are charged with disorderly conduct for putting their bodies on the line to block city contractor Homrich Wrecking’s trucks from going out to shut thousands of Detroiters’ water off July 18, 2014.
The defendants had requested a jury trial, trusting that Detroiters, who make up jury panels at that court, would hear their cry for justice in this, the nation’s largest and poorest Black-majority city. Former City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson was among their witnesses in the case.
“If I hadn’t stopped the trial, you might have had a verdict in the case today,” Hathaway told a packed courtroom. “I’m not sure civil disobedience is a defense to a criminal action. The focus has to be on the city’s motion for a mistrial and whether Judge Garrett properly denied that motion.”
City prosecutors in Hathaway’s court said they made the motion for a mistrial after two additional witnesses testified.
“They talked all about living like animals because their water had been shut off,” city prosecutor Elizabeth Mullen said. “Our ability to get a fair trial was thrown out the window.”
Hathaway said Melvin ‘Butch’ Hollowell, the city’s corporation counsel under “Mayor” Mike Duggan, and his second-in-command Doug Baker came to his court yesterday, Nov. 30, to argue for his intervention, and he issued an order halting the 36th District Court trial. Kramer’s attorney Julie Hurwitz said neither of Duggan’s two top lawyers had attended even one minute of the 36th District Court trial, which has gone on for 10 days.
“Yes, it was an ex parte hearing,” Hathaway admitted. “I’m not absolutely certain my order could not have been entered ex parte.” (“Ex parte” refers to a judge conferring only with one side in a court contest.)
Neither the defendants nor their attorneys were informed of the motion the city filed and arguments held before Hathaway Nov. 30. Judge Garrett received a copy of Hathaway’s order only after her jury was dismissed for the day, attorney Hurwitz said. Garrett ruled against the motion for a mistrial, but had not even had a chance to issue her written order before Hathaway suspended the trial.
“This is crazy,” Cassandra Ford, present in the crowd, said during a break. “What is wrong with that judge [Hathaway]? We don’t have any representation in the courts anymore. Why did he interfere at all? The defendants’ rights were denied.”
“Where is the justice?” Alesa Peatross-Smith added. “Can the people of Detroit even get justice—that’s the question. The Mayor has his pockets full of the money from the demolition contractors. They crucified Kwame, now Duggan needs to be crucified.”
Hathaway became notorious in the 2009 case of homeowner Tigh Croff, who chased and shot 52-year-old Herbert Silas, a grandfather of 13, down the street from his house after suspecting him of intending to break in.
“I told him he was going to die and I shot him,” Croff testified. In chambers, Hathaway told both the prosecution and defense attorneys he would have done the same thing. Hathaway reduced Croff’s charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter, which carries up to 15 years in prison. He later sentenced him to probation on that charge.
In the present case, Hathaway ordered that Judge Garrett issue her written order regarding the city’s motion for a mistrial immediately, and that city prosecutors file an application for leave to appeal her order within 24 hours afterwards.
Attorney John Royal, President of the Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, filed an extensive brief with Hathaway opposing his ruling halting the 36th District Court trial. He and Hurwitz contended that Michigan Court Rules barred Hathaway from taking over the case without a proper interlocutory appeal. Hathaway has been ruling on earlier appeals in the case for unknown reasons.
“Michael Hathaway ruled that he has jurisdiction in this case because he thinks he has jurisdiction,” Royal told the crowd of supporters afterwards. “If Judge Hathaway declares a mistrial, it means the trial is over and a new trial has to be scheduled. The city doesn’t want this to go to a verdict because it’s afraid of an acquittal. The City Law Department is clearly acting in close collaboration with Duggan.”
Royal said an appeal would be costly and take months, if not years.
The City is also clearly afraid that an acquittal in the 36th District Court case will open the floodgates for thousands of Detroiters to take direct action to stop water shut-offs which are increasing in the city every day, creating a horrific threat to public health. The United Nations has already condemned Detroit’s shut-off actions.
The Detroit Water & Sewerage Department and the Great Lakes Water Authority, created under the Detroit bankruptcy, are planning to begin a “joint partnership” Jan. 1, 2016. The GLWA would eventually have control over all DWSD matters including rates, contracts, and water shut-offs, among other issues.
Sue McCormick, newly appointed GLWA CEO, said in her monthly report Nov. 19 that 18,622 residential accounts have been permanently shut-off for “illegal” usage, from January 1 through Oct 31, 2015.
“Since May 11, 2015, the Department has posted 56,317 door hangers notifying customers of pending shut-off of services,” McCormick said. “A total of 29,433 of those customers have either paid their bills, or entered into a payment plan agreement.”
That of course leaves 26,884 households in imminent danger of shut-off in addition to the thousands who have already lost water service. According to Demeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade, the majority of customers he sees are not able to keep up with their payment plans.
The Authority has already declared that, come hell or high water, its “Water Resident Assistance Program” (WRAP) is not and never will be the income-based water affordability, no-shut-offs plan that thousands have demanded over the last two years.
Blocked in the courts, Detroiters will have to decide whether they will be shut-off from a life necessity for themselves and their families, or shut off Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, “mayor’ Duggan, racist white bankruptcy and circuit court judges, and other politicians, BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.
Related: The Coalition to Save the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department is continuing its petition campaign to get the GLWA takeover on the city’s ballot, and take shut-offs out of the hands of a regional authority hostile to Detroit.
All petition circulators are asked to turn in what they have collected so far at DAREA meetings, held at Nandi’s Knowledge Café at 12511 Woodward Ave. on the 1st Monday of the month at 11:30 am, and at St. Matthews and St. Joseph Church at Woodward and Holbrook on the third Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m.
For more information on the this campaign, including links to petitions themselves, fliers, and instructions for circulating, see:
The Coalition needs to collect a total of 15,000 valid petition signatures meaning it must collect at least twice that to allow for invalid signatures. Signers must be Detroit residents who are registered voters. CIRCULATORS DO NOT HAVE TO BE DETROIT RESIDENTS.
The Coalition’s Facebook Page is at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-to-Save-Detroits-Water-Sewerage-Department/1443509195955743?fref=ts
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