No surprise

May 5, 2004 at 12:00 am

What the hell was Wayne County Circuit Court Judge William J. Giovan thinking?

In 2002, Giovan tossed out a lawsuit that Justine Maldonado had filed against her former employer, Ford Motor Co., and former supervisor, Daniel Bennett (“Judicial Tantrum,” Metro Times, August 28, 2002). Her lawsuit claims that Bennett sexually harassed her, and that Ford knew about it and did nothing.

Giovan dismissed the case because Maldonado openly spoke to the media (i.e. Metro Times) about Bennett, who had been convicted of indecent exposure in 1995 for flashing his penis at three high-school teens on I-275. Maldonado had also accused Bennett of exposing himself to her.

Bennett’s criminal record was expunged in 2001 and Giovan ruled that Bennett’s freeway willie-waving could not be admitted as evidence in Maldonado’s case. But Giovan did not issue a gag order prohibiting Maldonado or her attorneys from discussing Bennett’s conviction. So, when they did talk about it, Giovan apparently decided that free speech is no longer the law of the land.

Last week, the Court of Appeals reinstated the case and kicked it back to the judge, contending he “abused his discretion.” Duh.

But it isn’t all good news for Maldonado. Though the Court of Appeals will allow her to admit testimony from no less than six other women who claim Bennett sexually harassed them on the job (something Giovan refused to do), she is prohibited from mentioning the I-275 case to jurors, according to the court’s written ruling. (By the way, Bennett’s dismissal from the case stands since the Court of Appeals ruled last year that only employers and not individuals could be sued for sex harassment.)

Despite the split ruling, Maldonado’s attorney George Washington says, “We’re delighted.”

The auto company plans to appeal the ruling, says Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes.

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