Nichols files appellate motion to get job back

Personal grievances also submitted against tribunal attorney, court judge

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 9, 2018



FRASER — Former Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols is continuing to exhaust his legal options.

Approximately 20 days after Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Richard Caretti issued a 23-page opinion denying a motion made by Nichols and former Fraser Councilman Matt Hemelberg in relation to writ of superintending control, an appellate motion was filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

On Dec. 27, Nichols’ attorney, Angela Mannarino, verified that the appeal had been filed only on behalf of Nichols against the city of Fraser. She said Hemelberg elected not to appeal.

The defense’s opinion is still pursuant to writ of superintending control, in reference to the Sept. 18 tribunal hearing that led to the ousting of both council members.

Once the tribunal — which was presided over by former Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Peter Maceroni — concluded, Nichols and Hemelberg filed a motion Oct. 6 for writ of superintending control. That motion was later corrected and was submitted Oct. 9. Following an Oct. 13 conference call, the matter was adjourned until Nov. 6.

On Oct. 30, a motion for recusal argued that recusal of Caretti was required because attorney Robert Huth — who was hired by the city of Fraser to oversee the tribunal — has served as Caretti’s treasurer during his re-election campaign. That recusal motion was denied Nov. 6.

Then, on Nov. 27, Chief Judge James Biernat, after entertaining oral argument, affirmed Caretti’s denial of the motion of recusal.

“Joe Nichols is hopeful that the Court of Appeals will recognize that the City Council did not act in accordance with the city charter during the removal hearing process and, accordingly, that he was wrongfully removed from office,” Mannarino said Dec. 28. “The goal is to have him reinstated as mayor of the city of Fraser to finish out his term.”

Mannarino added that she was unsure about a timetable for oral arguments to be heard, or when a decision would be made by the court.

On Dec. 29, Nichols confirmed that he also filed complaints with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission and the Judicial Tenure Commission against Huth and Caretti. He filed the grievances himself, as no legal representation is required.

Nichols maintains that members of the Fraser City Council acted “incorrectly” in removing him and Hemelberg, citing sexual harassment allegations that were “personal” and “politically motivated.”

“(Fraser City Manager) Wayne O’Neal colluded with members of council and cooperating members of staff to orchestrate this entire situation,” Nichols said. “Ask yourself why, if this was a problem, wouldn’t O’Neal have met with us and the city attorneys immediately to first inform both of us, and second, to remedy the problem.

“This is about politics, money, collusion and the fact that while we, as the minority, held the votes to protect the residents’ votes, they had to come up with a way to get us out so they can continue the poor spending, misappropriation and collusion that has gone on for years and put Fraser and the residents in this dire financial position.”

He alluded to the financial restructuring of the city that has begun to take place following a failed ballot proposal.

Huth said he responded to Nichols’ complaint via the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, calling it “without merit.” He added that he’s unaware of any Judicial Tenure Commission investigation regarding Caretti.

“Joe Nichols and Matt Hemelberg picked the wrong time to bet that any judge is going to disregard well-established law regarding harassment in the workplace,” Huth said Jan. 2.


Recall effort currently in limbo
Fraser resident Thomas LaDuke coordinated a recall effort against Nichols, collecting 1,782 signatures, while just 1,305 were required. On Dec. 29, he said he was told by the Macomb County Clerk’s Office that aside from about 40 to 50 signatures, the others would be certified in a timely manner.

However, he stated that county corporate counsel contended that since Nichols is no longer the city’s mayor and is not in office, the case becomes moot. He hoped to hear from Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger, though “we don’t know when or if she will validate (the signatures).”

Nichols is contesting the process. On Dec. 27, LaDuke was approved as the intervening party in the legal battle, saying that he hopes the signatures become validated and that some kind of election will take place in May to fill the empty seat on the council. Currently, Councilwoman Kathy Blanke is acting as mayor pro tem.

“I’m very happy with the opportunity to continue to expose Joe for what he is,” LaDuke said. “You’d think he would just lay down and go away, but he wants to make a case and say it’s about the finances of the city and such. He never provided anything to explain how to get the city out of the mess it’s in.”