Still fightin'

News Hits often feels as if the famous statue of Justice is lacking one feature necessary to complete its symbolism. The scales she holds show deliberation, and the sword represents the punishment those found guilty will suffer, while her blindfolded eyes indicate the impartiality that's supposed to be inherent in our system. The only thing missing is an enormous pair of cement boots to serve as a symbol of the glacial pace at which this dame often moves.

We were reminded of this when while touching base with John Bennett, the Detroit cop who's been in a legal tussle with the city since July 2003, when it started coming down on him for creating a Web site critical of his department and the administration of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. First suspended and then fired, Bennett has consistently been getting favorable rulings in his effort to get reinstated. The problem is, the city keeps fighting back, dragging the whole thing on and on.

Bennett says he's currently working three jobs to make ends meet. He's also earned a master's degree in public administration along the way. Even so, he continues to maintain his Detroit Uncovered Web site, hounding Kilpatrick and Chief Ella Bully-Cummings, who replaced Jerry Oliver, the chief who fired Bennett then ran into some troubles of his own (but hey, who hasn't had problems trying to get past airport security with a firearm?).

Bennett sued, claiming his constitutionally protected right to free speech had been violated. The city initially asked the Circuit Court judge hearing the case to dismiss the suit, claiming a variety of reasons ranging from lack of jurisdiction to governmental immunity to the tried and true, "Hey we didn't do anything wrong" theory. The judge didn't buy it, and in 2005 ruled the case should move forward. The one victory achieved by the city was success in having Kilpatrick removed as a defendant. The city appealed the decision to let the case move forward, and Bennett filed an appeal of his own, seeking to have Kilpatrick put back in.

Along the way, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) — which uses mediators and arbitrators to resolve labor disputes involving public- and private-sector employees — has twice ruled that the city improperly suspended Bennett. The city's appealing that too.

Next week both sides will present oral arguments to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

No matter what, though, the end is nowhere in sight. The Hits admits a bias here: Not only do we think Bennett's a good guy with his heart in the right place, but we also have a special place in our own heart for the First Amendment. If public employees aren't allowed to draw attention to the perceived transgressions of their bosses, we're all the worse for it.

Bennett says he thought about letting the site die, but was urged by friends in the department, city employees and others to keep it going. "It's kind of taken on a life of its own," he says.

Expressing dismay at the amount of moola his cash-strapped city continues to spend on lawyers as it fights him, he tells News Hits he might even run for public office someday in an attempt to right this burg's course.

For the time being though, he's banking that Justice will eventually get to where she needs to go, even if it is one painfully plodding step at a time.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at [email protected] or
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