Interesting passage from colleague Darren Nichols’ June 11 report, “Crittendon: Detroit consent deal lawsuit ‘not about me‘”: “[Crittendon, the Detroit city attorney,] took the media to task for criticizing the law department for pursuing the suit independently.
“Lawyers under a previous administration were castigated for allegedly acting in accordance with what individual public officials wanted,” she said. “The current posturing by the media is, therefore, inexplicable.”"
Actually, Krystal, it’s really not inexplicable at all.
Let me explain.
When Detroit has a mayor facing criminal charges, a mayor whose wrongdoing had cost the city millions, a mayor who believes and acts as if he is above the law, that’s when we need the city attorney to act independently. In that instance we need the attorney to be above politics and out from under the thumb of her “bosses” in City Hall, the mayor and City Council.
The city attorney’s real clients, after all, are the people of the city of Detroit.
When, on the other hand, Detroit is facing financial ruin by accepting monies tied to a consent agreement deal that the city turned around and said is invalid — meaning that the financial relief premised on a done deal must be returned forthwith — that’s when we need the city attorney to do what’s necessary. In this case, it would mean dropping the lawsuit alleging that the consent agreement is void because the state owes the city revenue-sharing money and is behind on a water bill. That case seems to rest on a shaky legal leg, a water bill that has not been adjudicated and can’t be considered in default and a revenue-sharing system disbanded by the Legislature.
But the two situations really aren’t all that different. Both fall under the broad rubric of “doing what’s best for the client.” In the first case, what’s best for Detroit is to have a mayor whose head is in the game, not plotting his legal defense. In this case, what’s best for Detroit is to have enough money to make payroll and keep the city’s last 3 operable streetlights on at night.
There’s also a question of timing. If Crittendon knew that the state’s supposed debts to Detroit might gum up the works, why didn’t she mention it before Bing and the council signed onto the consent agreement which granted Detroit financial relief? (As city attorney Crittendon should have known about, and sought recovery of, the state’s supposed “debt” to Detroit long before the consent agreement ever came up. $200+ M is a major oversight.)
Either Crittendon was asleep on the job then or is mortgaging the city’s future on a longshot lawsuit now. There is no third choice.
If I’m hiring an attorney, the time for caution and thoroughness is before a contract is signed, not after. Even if Crittendon is right in her logic, the poor timing should be damning enough for people in City Hall to wonder whether Detroit’s interests are best served by the current city attorney. Crittendon wants to brand herself a hero for “just doing her job.” But if she had been doing her job, we wouldn’t be in this position.
More than their legal training, attorneys are valued for their judgment. At this crucial juncture in Detroit’s history, Crittendon has shown poor timing and poor judgment and should be shown the door.
UPDATE: Mayor Bing took Crittendon to the woodshed in a letter on Tuesday, colleague Darren Nichols learned.
“By virtue of my authority as Mayor under the 2012 Charter, I am directing you to withdraw the complaint filed by your office,” Bing’s letter reads. It points to a section in the charter that indicates the mayor must give the corporation counsel approval to pursue legal action on behalf of the city.
“As I have expressed both privately and publicly, I disagree with your opinion.”
“By taking this action you have exceeded your authority under the Charter and have put the city’s financial stability at substantial risk of serious financial consequences,” Bing wrote.
“I remind you that you remain subject to the duty to minimize any adverse impacts on the city when you act. As we have discussed… ‘the lawsuit will … compromise numerous existing contracts and potential future contracts between the city and state.’ These are serious consequences which I, as Mayor, wish to avoid so that we can move the city forward.”