Unresolved issues to be further addressed in Macomb County case

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published September 9, 2021

 A hearing was held last month in federal court in a case that involves a lawsuit filed by Rhonda Powell against a couple Macomb County officials. She is seen here in 2016.

A hearing was held last month in federal court in a case that involves a lawsuit filed by Rhonda Powell against a couple Macomb County officials. She is seen here in 2016.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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MACOMB COUNTY — A case involving two Macomb County officials and a former county employee carries on in court.

An Aug. 26 motion hearing was held in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford.

In December, Rhonda Powell filed a complaint in federal court against Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Deputy Executive John Paul Rea with a jury demand.

Powell is the former Macomb County Health and Community Services director and was fired in September 2019. At the time of her dismissal, she was the highest-ranking Black employee in the county’s history. Powell, who was appointed to her former position by Hackel, alleges she was discharged “for addressing numerous African American employee discrimination complaints.”

Powell seeks $5 million in damages.

It was revealed at the August hearing that the attorneys did not meet and confer prior to the hearing, which Stafford said was her No. 1 order requirement. The point of the meeting would be to see if issues could be resolved.

Stafford said Terrence Miglio’s boilerplate objection operates as a waiver, with him not saying if any documents have been withheld as a result of the objection and is improper. Miglio is representing Hackel.

Powell’s attorney, Nabih Ayad, questioned which documents Miglio is providing, saying he has to identify the documents.   

Miglio said Ayad is asking for records of all public events and functions for which the Macomb County Family Resources Center reviewed from a five-year period leading up to Powell’s termination. Miglio added that Ayad wants the identity of organizations and specific events the center was used for.

Miglio said he will provide documents that reflect how the facility was used.   

Stafford said she included in the meet and confer order verbiage about boilerplate objections. The defense must support the objection with affidavits or other evidence — enough for the court to make a common-sense judgement.

Another motion hearing was set for Sept. 8. Stafford asked for an updated list of unresolved issues to be provided to her by Sept. 3, after press time.

Stafford read a 2018 opinion from U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland, which states that objections to discovery requests are boilerplate objections. Cleland writes that objections are known and detested by judicial parties around the country.

A boilerplate objection, which Stafford said she won’t consider, are general and includes ready-made language that would fit a variety of cases.

Miglio said he doesn’t think the two parties have had any problem working out the stipulations of the case and believes the issues can be narrowed down.

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