Bridge company pledges cooperation, then claims conspiracy in court filing

Feb 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm
Officials for the Detroit International Bridge Company showed up in Wayne County Circuit Court on Thursday morning to repeat what they announced during a press conference the day before: They are ready to do everything Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards says is required to complete the long-stalled Gateway Project in southwest Detroit.

With 84-year-old Manuel “Matty” Moroun — chair of the company’s board of directors — and bridge company president Dan Stamper facing the possibility of again being sent back to jail for contempt of court, it appeared they were ready to completely comply with the judge’s order.

But the company still had a few moves up its corporate sleeve, including allegations of a government conspiracy to coerce the company into dropping its opposition to a publicly owned bridge to Canada.

For starters, Matthew Moroun showed up in court instead of his father. The younger Moroun told the court that he, not dad Matty, ultimately controls a majority interest in ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.

So it was Matthew Moroun and Stamper who stood before the judge with right hands raised in the air, swearing they were committed to seeing the company’s portion of the Gateway Project completed according to what MDOT has long maintained was the original design of the $230-million public-private effort.

Prior to that, though, lawyers for Matthew Moroun and the bridge company each submitted a separate emergency motion calling on Edwards to disqualify himself. He refused.

Given the opportunity to provide oral arguments, the lawyers declined, saying they would let the filings speak for themselves.

The motion filed by the bridge company’s lawyers — four of them are listed on the document — contains the most serious allegations.

In essence, it accuses Gov. Rick Snyder, Judge Edwards and Charles Scales — an engineer and attorney appointed by Edwards to monitor the bridge company’s progress in completing the work ordered by the court — of participating in a conspiracy designed to get the bridge company to back off its opposition to construction of a publicly owned bridge linking Windsor to the Delray area of Detroit.

Having said in the past that the new bridge could siphon off as much as 70 percent of the traffic that crosses their privately owned bridge, the Morouns have mounted a fierce campaign to keep it from being built. The fight has included intense lobbying and financial support for members of the Legislature, as well as television and print ads that have been criticized by independent watchdogs for being at best misleading and at worst outright fabrications.

The gist of the allegations made in the motion filed by the DIBC is this: Edwards, in a successful attempt to win the favor of Gov. Snyder and have his son, Prentis Edwards Jr., appointed to the 36th District Court bench, has unfairly sided with MDOT in the case and consistently ruled against the bridge company, going so far as to illegally jail Matty Moroun and Stamper.

The argument that the judge exceeded his authority in jailing the two men for contempt failed to sway a three-judge panel on the Michigan Court of Appeals, which on Monday issued a 2-1 ruling declaring that Edwards was within his rights in putting Moroun and Stamper behind bars in an attempt to “coerce” them into fulfilling the company’s contractual obligations and complete the project as designed.

The company is currently appealing that ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Rebutting some of the company’s written allegation in court Wednesday, Robert Mol, an assistant state attorney general representing MDOT, pointed out that the state first filed its lawsuit against the bridge company in 2009, when Jennifer Granholm was still governor, and that Edwards found the DIBC in contempt of court for the first time in early 2010, when Snyder had been in office for a mere 10 days.

No “credible evidence” has ever been introduced that supports the theory that Snyder attempted to influence Edwards’ handling of the case, Mol said.

Even more disturbing, however, are accusations regarding Scales, a Detroit engineer and lawyer appointed by Edwards in 2010 to monitor the bridge company’s work and report to the judge on a regular basis any progress being,

According to the court filing, the DIBC is alleging that Scales called bridge company lawyer Reginald Turner on June 6, 2011* and requested a private meeting later that day. Tuner complied, and the two met at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit sometime around 5 p.m.

According to the court documents, this is what the DIBC alleges happened at that meeting:

Monitor Scales started the meeting by advising Mr. Turner that he would, if called upon, deny any of what he was about to tell Mr. Turner.”

Scales also allegedly told Turner that

Judge Edwards would not force MDOT to accept alternative proposals from DIBC [regarding the Gateway Project].

Mr. Scales further advised Mr. Turner that MDOT would never agree to any proposal from DIBC unless DIBC first withdrew its opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposed New International Bridge Crossing Bridge (the “NITC Bridge”), formerly known as the Detroit River International Crossing bridge. Monitor Scales further advised Mr. Turner that if the DIBC withdrew its opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposed NITC Bridge, DIBC would be afforded the opportunity to run the duty-free store at the Governor’s new bridge. Mr. Turner left that meeting very troubled, and believed the Monitor Scales had been sent to convey to DIBC that it had no choice but to withdraw its opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposed NITC Bridge if DIBC wanted any relief in this case from Judge Edwards or cooperation from MDOT. Monitor Scales, who is an attorney, would have known that Mr. Turner was required to convey that message to his client, DIBC. The nature of the threat was unambiguous, and can be attributed to Judge Edwards since Mr. Scales serves as the Court’s Monitor.

Tuner, contacted by Metro Times, seemed surprised by the call and initially responded by saying absolutely nothing when asked about the allegation. After a long pause, he said he had not yet seen the motion.

He directed further questions to Detroit attorney Godfrey Dillard, who Turner said is now the DIBC’s lead attorney on the case. Dillard, contacted by e-mail, said Turner was the appropriate person to provide comment.

One person willing to talk about the allegations is Scales. Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, he confirmed that he and Turner did indeed meet informally over drinks at the Book Cadillac in June 2010, but he maintains that little else that’s being alleged is true.

For starters, Scales says, it was Turner who first reached out and contacted him.

The two men, says Scales, are long-time personal friends. At that point, Turner was just coming on board as part of the bridge company’s legal team and wanted to get Scales’ perspective on the case. Scales agreed to an “off the record” chat with his friend, saying that any information shared would remain between just the two of them.

“I wasn’t there to relay any messages from the judge, the governor, or any other party,” says Scales. “It was a meeting between friends, having an informal conversation.”

One thing Scales says he did tell Turner is this: It would be in the company’s best interests to comply with the judge’s orders.

He says he also suggested that the company “think outside the box” in order to break up the logjam existing between the company and MDOT, and that one way for that to occur would be for the company to use its opposition to the NITC bridge as a bargaining chip.

Scales says he has no recollection of the duty free shop coming up in the conversation.

Asked if he thought the allegations were an act of desperation on the part of the bridge company, Scales declined to answer.

What he did say about the bridge company’s claims that he initiated the meeting, and that he was there both to deliver a threat as well as promises of a reward if the company backed off opposition to the publicly owned bridge is this:

“I’m deeply saddened and very disappointed these allegations were made. They are not true.”

Asked via e-mail about the allegations made in the filings, MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson replied:

The State was not part of any meeting, nor was the judge. The monitor does not represent the State of Michigan, MDOT or even the judge. He is only a monitor, nothing more. So we give no credibility whatsoever to DIBC’s unsupported allegation.

* An earlier version of this posting gave the date as June 6, 2010.