Doing the Right Thing

Nov 28, 2011

Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ruled that the privately held Ambassador Bridge company was guilty of contempt of court. This was not surprising.

Nearly two years ago, the judge found that the company and its owner, Matty Moroun, had violated its agreement with the state of Michigan concerning what is known as the Gateway project. This was a joint, two-hundred and thirty million dollar venture between the bridge company and the state to connect the bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 through a series of new roads and ramps.

Both parties agreed on where the roads were to be built. But Moroun violated the agreement. He built a money-generating duty-free shop and put fuel pumps where one of the new roads was to have gone. The Michigan Department of Transportation sued, and in February 2010, the judge issued a ruling.

He ordered the bridge company to tear down the pumps and the duty-free shop, and build the road as agreed. But nothing happened. Eleven months ago, the judge briefly jailed Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company for non-compliance.

He let him out when Stamper promised to get it done. But again, nothing happened. Finally, on November 2, the judge ruled the company guilty of civil contempt.

He set a hearing for Thursday to decide whether to have a court-appointed receiver take control of the project.

Further, Judge Edwards ordered Matty Moroun himself to appear in court January 12, at which point the judge plans to assess penalties on the contempt charge, penalties that could include fines or even jail time. After he had made his ruling, Matthew Moroun, son of the bridge owner, made a sensational charge.

He said the judge was doing this to curry favor with Governor Rick Snyder, who wants a new bridge across the Detroit River. He said the judge wanted Snyder to appoint his son, attorney Prentis Edwards Jr., to a vacant district judgeship.

The absurdity of that can easily be demonstrated. Judge Edwards has been ruling against the bridge company for years, long before Snyder became governor. When he first ordered the bridge company to tear down the illegal duty-free shop, Snyder was no more than a long-shot for the Republican nomination for governor.

Nor has the governor expressed any opinion on the Gateway project, which is an entirely separate issue from the new bridge.

What was true, was that the younger Edwards was interested in a judgeship. I felt, however, that though Matthew Moroun’s charge was totally bogus, it was almost certain to prevent that appointment.

Well, I was wrong. The governor has now moved to fill three district court vacancies, and named the younger Edwards to one of them. A spokesman for the governor said the appointment was made entirely based on qualifications, that the judge’s father never contacted the governor, and that the bridge issue never came up.

Rick Snyder wasn’t about to be intimidated. I wonder if he grew up watching the Walt Disney version of Davy Crockett, who used to say, “Be sure you are doing the right thing, then go ahead.”

In any event, that seems to be how he does business. For Matty Moroun, that must be a worrisome sign.