Judge orders township, former police chief to negotiate suit

By: Brad D. Bates | C&G Newspapers | Published February 10, 2012

Less than two weeks after former Shelby Township Police Chief Bob Leman formally declared his candidacy for township supervisor, a Circuit Court judge ordered facilitation in Leman’s lawsuit against the township.

Macomb County Circuit Court Judge David Viviano ordered Leman’s attorney, Joseph Golden, and the township’s representation, John Gillooly, to seek the help of an independent facilitator to see if the sides can come to terms before taking the matter before a jury.

“The judge ordered facilitation to take place in the next 90 days,” Golden said. “The two sides agreed on the facilitator and are now scheduling a mutually agreeable date for facilitation.”

“The judge thought it would be a good idea, and he does this in a vast majority of cases,” Gillooly said. “We’re gong to comply with the judge, but we believe strongly that we did absolutely nothing wrong, and (Leman) is not entitled to a single dime from the township of Shelby.”

The two sides agreed to have former Wayne County Chief Judge James Rashid serve as the facilitator, who has no capacity to force any moves by either side. Golden said Rashid will help dictate “shuttle diplomacy.”

“The idea would be to try and get it done before May 9, which is the date for the next settlement conference with (Viviano),” Golden said. “(The goal is) to resolve or report back to the judge what progress is made.”

Citing the Whistleblower Protection Act, Leman filed the lawsuit against Shelby Township Nov. 28, 2011, regarding the Board of Trustees’ decision not to renew his contract Sept. 20, 2011.

In a 5-2 vote, the board opted not to give Leman a three-year contract.

Rather than board members’ stated reasons of a breakdown in communication and leadership, the suit alleges Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis and Treasurer Paul Viar influenced the board not to retain Leman because of his investigation into alleged wrongdoing.

“He’s suing the township because the board took action, but the allegations in the suit are the result of the influence of Viar and Stathakis,” Golden said. “Suing the township is only for the purpose of using the courts to protect his rights.”

Golden contends that Leman, who is seeking the full amount of a three-year police chief contract in the suit, was not retained because he forwarded investigations into Stathakis and Viar to the Macomb County Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s offices.

The investigation into Viar was in regard to allegations that he may have been responsible for a Planning Commission member missing a rezoning vote in 2009.

The Planning Commission voted 5-3 June 10, 2009, to recommend rezoning of a property on the southwest corner of 24 Mile and Schoenherr roads from residential to office, part of a Planned Unit Development that the developer, Michael Torres, was also requesting.

Janet Elliott, a member of the Planning Commission at that time, was the only member absent from the public hearing.

The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office reviewed an investigation conducted by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office into allegations that Viar may have threatened Elliott before the meeting and that is why she did not attend.

And an investigation into a $500 gift Jaime Barra, then Shelby Township’s acting assessing department head, received in the spring of 2008 resulted in an investigation of Stathakis by the county sheriff and prosecutor.

Barra brought the matter to Police Chief Robert Leman’s attention in September of 2008, prompting an investigation by William Pilchak, an Auburn Hills attorney, which cost the township almost $20,000.

Barra said he asked Stathakis what to do with the money when he received it from Shelby Township resident Mark Kassab, and that Stathakis told Barra to donate $400 to charities of Barra’s choice and that Stathakis would donate $100 to his church.

Stathakis denied having the conversation, and the Pilchak report was inconclusive as to whether Barra acted alone.

Both cases were closed without charges being filed, with Viar’s case coming to a close Sept. 2 2010, and Stathakis’ being closed in early 2011.

At the Sept. 21, 2010, Board of Trustees meeting, Stathakis made clear that it was Leman’s duty to address his department’s budget as the police fund was nearing a deficit in less than five years.

“If we don’t do something now … the township will be forced to either cut police officers or raise taxes,” Stathakis said at the Sept. 21, 2010, meeting. “Police Chief Leman understands the issues and has given me his commitment that he will come up with ways to cut costs.”

“We will give him whatever support he needs to meet these objectives, (but) significant work must be accomplished within the next year,” Stathakis added.

That, he said, was why Stathakis was recommending just a one-year contract for the chief, who had served in the position since October 2001 and prior to the approval of the one-year deal at the Sept. 21, 2010, meeting had been working under three-year contracts.

A year later, Stathakis, who has not decided if he will run for re-election, voted against extending Leman’s contract for three years, citing differences in how he felt the department should be led.

“I voted for a one-year extension 12 months ago because I wanted to give him another chance,” Stathakis said at the Sept. 20, 2011, meeting. “Unfortunately, my expectations have not been met. I believe the Police Department would be better served by going in a different direction.”

And that is why Gillooly says township officials view Leman’s suit as little more than a “publicity stunt” as part of his campaign for supervisor.

“It’s amazing that someone would sue the township he wants to be supervisor of,” said Gillooly, who said his work on the case would not cost township taxpayers “a penny.”

“If they ask for any real money, so to speak, we’re going to have to have a jury force us to pay.”

Golden said he foresees no conflict between Leman’s campaign and his suit, even if the matter were to go to a trial that would likely continue after the Aug. 7, 2012, township primary election.

“He’s got every right of every citizen to bring a charge and every right to run for office,” Golden said. “I see no conflict of interest.”

Golden did admit though that, if Leman were to win the election, that would likely change matters.

“At that point, the township would probably be interested in some resolution, but that’s my opinion,” Golden said.