Settlement reached in whistleblower suit against Shelby Township

By: Sara Kandel | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 1, 2013

A $75,000 settlement has been reached in the whistleblower lawsuit against Shelby Township by former police chief Robert Leman.

According to documents obtained by the Shelby-Utica News, Leman agreed to a $75,000 settlement with Trident Insurance on behalf of the township, on condition that he agree to fully release the township from any past, present or future claims resulting from the 2011 decision of the Board of Trustees not to renew his contract with the township.

Leman’s attorney, Joseph Golden, said they were forced to file a motion to enforce settlement to get paid, but didn’t offer much more detail into the suit or resulting settlement, other than expressing happiness that everything was resolved.

“We are happy with the resolution and glad that it’s over and everyone can get on with their lives,” Golden said.

Township officials have been mum on the settlement, refusing to comment on any particulars of the suit.

The suit sought the value of a three-year police chief contract, which mirrors the term put before the Board of Trustees for renewal in 2011. Leman’s last one-year contract was worth about $107,000, according to the township.

“Since the settlement was the decision of our insurance company and not the Board of Trustees, I was told by my legal counsel to refrain from commenting,” said township Supervisor Richard Stathakis. “We pay a $10,000 deductible and anything that happened after that was at the sole discretion of the insurance company.”

Stathakis went on to mention an agreement between both parties of the suit to refrain from commenting on it publicly.

“I am curious as to why the opposition is not adhering to the decision we agreed to,” Stathakis said.

“While I cannot comment on the terms of the settlement or the particulars of Bob Leman’s suit against the good people of Shelby Township, I do want to say that I stand by the decision of the clear majority of the Board of Trustees. I wish I could say more, but I cannot.”

In the lawsuit, Leman asserted the township violated the Whistleblowers Protection Act when he was wrongfully terminated after the Board of Trustees voted 5-2 not to renew his contract with the city, following two separate investigations into alleged unlawful activity by two board members in September 2009.

The first was an investigation of a criminal complaint that alleged Trustee and Board Treasurer Paul Viar made threats against a planning commissioner, which led to the commissioner missing an important vote.

In the suit, filed in Macomb County Circuit Court Nov. 28, 2011, Leman acknowledged the ability to discontinue the investigation, but said concern about the alleged unlawful activity by Viar led him to forward the case to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office. The case was closed without resulting in any charges.

Not long after, Leman investigated a report that alleged Stathakis had instructed a township official on how to disburse  bribery money from a resident. In the complaint, Jaime Barra, then Shelby Township’s acting Assessing Department head, received a $500 gift from a resident in 2008, and when he asked Stathakis what he should do with it, Stathakis instructed him to donate $400 to charities of his choice, and Stathakis said he would donate $100 to his church.

Stathakis denied ever having the conversation, but citing a concern of unlawful activity by Stathakis, Leman forwarded the investigation to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office. The case was closed without any charges.

The suit claims the investigations led to the board’s decision to terminate Leman: “In retaliation for (Leman’s) decision to report Viar’s and Stathakis’s suspected unlawful activity, Viar and Stathakis … voted against extending/renewing (Leman’s) employment contract, and influenced and persuaded three other (board) members to do the same. These five board members created a majority and effectively terminated (Leman’s) employment because of Viar’s and Stathakis’s retaliatory animus.”

Viar and Stathakis adamantly denied the claims, and documents obtained by the Shelby-Utica News detailed the reasoning behind two board members’ decisions to vote against renewing Leman’s contract.

In a three-page bulleted outline, Stathakis highlighted specific instances that led him to doubt the effectiveness of Leman’s leadership and communication skills. The document refers to problems with the D.A.R.E. program; the crossing-guard program; grievances filed by outside organizations; internal investigations; noncompliance to requests from the Supervisor’s Office and lack of communication with the Supervisor’s Office and other township departments.

In one instance, Stathakis referred to the department’s failure to respond to a request for backup in regards to a convicted felon on the run, because they were preoccupied with a department breakfast, in which the chief “did not show leadership and his orders were not clear when he directed that breakfast should be discontinued.”

At the time of the 2011 vote in which Leman was terminated, Trustee Paula Filar made a statement saying that the year prior she voted to renew Leman’s contract for one year to see if he could be the type of leader the department needed, which she described as a “leader of change,” not only willing to embrace change, but being proactive in it. A year later, she was not satisfied that he had and could not “support the renewal” of his contract.

The lawsuit defended Leman’s job performance.

"Plaintiff (Leman), at all times, was a valued employee of defendant (Shelby Township) and performed all the terms and conditions of his employment in a satisfactory and/or exemplary (manner)."