Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards lifted the civil contempt finding against the Ambassador Bridge owners today, saying they had been complying with his orders to turn the disputed Gateway project over to the Michigan Department of Transportation. The ruling means that bridge owners Manuel (Matty) Moroun, his son Matthew, and bridge company president Dan Stamper are no longer under threat of jailing and no longer are required to attend subsequent court hearings in the case.
DETROIT (AP) - A judge has ordered the company that controls the Ambassador Bridge to surrender control of its portion of a project on the U.S. side of the international crossing to the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Thursday that an account be set up to fund the work.
A next court hearing is March 22.
The Detroit International Bridge Co. has said it's making progress on its share of the $230 million Gateway Project and pledged to complete the work.
In January, Edwards put 84-year-old billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top executive, Dan Stamper, in jail for contempt of court for failing to follow orders on the project, which includes connecting the bridge with Canada to area interstates.
The Detroit International Bridge Company says it’s moving forward on a long-disputed construction project.
Godfrey Dillard and other DIBC lawyers will try to convince Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards they're making progress in a hearing Thursday.
Edwards found DIBC President Dan Stamper and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in contempt of court for ignoring his orders. He had ordered them to finish the Gateway Project, a disputed joint construction project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, according to initial plans.
Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) President Dan Stamper and Matty Moroun's son, Matthew, appeared before Judge Prentis Edwards in Wayne County Circuit Court today.
Both pledged that DIBC will comply with Edwards' order, and complete the Gateway Project according to specifications.
And both swore to cede power over the Gateway Project to a "special committee" as outlined in Michigan law--one that will include Stamper, but will otherwise be made up of outsiders.
DIBC lawyer Godfrey Dillard says his clients are doing what they can to "purge themselves of the contempt" charges that landed Stamper and Matty Moroun in jail briefly last month. But they still think the underlying court order is wrong--and will appeal that separately.
Dillard says the company has already started "de-construction" on their portion of the Gateway Project in order to comply.
But Tony Kratofil, Metro Region engineer for M-DOT, says it's "too soon to tell" whether all of this adds up to DIBC acting in good faith.
"It all sounds very good on the surface, but we’ll see what actions play out in the next month,” Kratofil said.
Another hearing to monitor progress is scheduled for March 8th before Judge Edwards.
The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says it will comply with a court order—and give up a years-long legal battle over a disputed construction project.
The announcement comes ahead of a scheduled hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court Thursday.
But the Detroit International Bridge Company won’t use it to keep fighting the February, 2010 court decision ordering them to finish the long-delayed Gateway Project.
That's a joint construction project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, meant to better connect the bridge with surrounding highways.
Instead, Bridge Company officials say they'll use the hearing to detail how they plan to comply.
The ongoing battle between the DIBC and MDOT landed DIBC President Dan Stamper and bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun in jail overnight for civil contempt of court last month. Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the lower court judge's right to incarcerate the two men, though not indefinitely.
Stamper admits the idea of returning there motivated them to cooperate. “It entered into all of our thoughts,” said Stamper.
Moroun's son, Matthew, added: "I don’t think any human being likes jail.”
Matthew Moroun says he and his father will also cede decision-making powers for the Gateway Project to a "special committee." They say that committee will include Stamper, but otherwise be made up of people from outside the DIBC.
Although they've now agreed to comply with, the DIBC continues to insist the court order is wrong. They've blamed MDOT all along for the construction delays, despite the court's decision and the findings of an independent monitor.
When I heard the first news flashes about the Michigan Court of appeals ruling yesterday, it appeared briefly that the Ambassador Bridge company had won. Indeed, the court said Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards was wrong to rule that Matty Moroun, the bridge’s owner, and Dan Stamper, his top employee, had to stay in jail until they lived up to an agreement with the state.
A three judge panel from the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards used his power appropriately when he jailed billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top company official, Detroit International Bridge Company President Dan Stamper, on January 12, 2012.
However, the court did say Judge Edwards didn't make the conditions of their release clear enough.
Lawyers representing Moroun and Stamper argued that their imprisonment was an improper use of the civil contempt of court power and "was invalid as a matter of law."
From the opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals:
We disagree with appellants to the extent that they argue that incarceration was an improper use of the trial court’s civil contempt power; however, we agree with appellants that the trial court erred in requiring their continued incarceration until DIBC “fully complied with” the February 1, 2010, order...
Confinement or imprisonment may be imposed whether the contempt is civil or criminal in nature. Borden v Borden, 67 Mich App 45, 48; 239 NW2d 757 (1976). In the civil context, the confinement must be conditional.
Moroun and Stamper were freed on appeal by the Michigan Court of Appeals on January 13 after spending the night in a county jail.
Now, after this Appeals Court ruling, the two top Ambassador Bridge officials will return to Wayne County Circuit Court this week.
And they’ll do so facing the possibility they could go back to jail if Judge Edwards crafts a new civil contempt of court order.
The whole issue stems from a dispute over the Gateway Project, a joint construction project between the DIBC and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The project was meant to build ramps that would better connect the Ambassador Bridge to surrounding highways, and keep truck traffic off residential streets.
The Appeals Court ruled that Edwards was within his rights when he ordered the two to jail. But they maintain Prentis's order that the two remain incarcerated until the Gateway Project is "complete"--something that will likely take months--was too vague.
The Appeals Court judges said Edwards would have to provide specifics on how Moroun and Stamper can remove the civil contempt of court ruling.
A Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman says the agency is pleased with the ruling, and is “eager” to see the more specific conditions the Judge lays out.
The Detroit International Bridge Company released a statement that was silent on most of the ruling, but noted the DIBC is "pleased with the recognition by the MI Court of Appeals today that the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project must be finished." It went on to say:
"Given the events since the Court of Appeals accepted the appeal from Judge Edward’s order, MDOT announced its intent to begin completion of MDOT’s unfinished ramp. It is very clear that MDOT has held up construction, not DIBC...No one wants the Gateway completed more than us."
Most people remember Upton Sinclair, the crusading twentieth century writer, as the author of the novel, The Jungle, which exposed conditions in the food packing industry in Chicago. If you haven’t read it, it’s enough to make a butcher become a vegan for a week.
Gregg Ward took his 16-year-old daughter Emily to a crowded courtroom last Thursday morning, so they could both see what would happen to Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.
To her father’s astonishment, Moroun became the only billionaire ever to spend a night in the crowded Wayne County jail, after a judge found him in contempt for refusing to follow court orders to demolish some illegal construction and live up to a contract with the state. Emily was fascinated. “I was definitely glad I went!” she said. “It was really interesting to see how justice would prevail.”
On Thursday morning, January 12, Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards sent billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner, Manuel "Matty" Moroun to jail for failing to comply with the judge's order to finish a project that will connect the bridge to nearby expressways.
Dan Stamper, the president of the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), has been ordered to jail as well. The Detroit International Bridge Company owns the Ambassador Bridge.
This post was updated as the story developed.
Update 6:00 p.m.
The Michigan Court of Appeals has freed Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his top aide, Dan Stamper from the Wayne County jail, as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports. The court will hear an appeal on Judge Edwards' decision on February 2.
The son of 84 year-old Manuel "Matty" Moroun, Matthew T. Moroun, released a statement to the Detroit Free Press about his father's jailing:
"Without a trial, without a jury, with no notice stating the reasons for them to appear, a judge viciously lashed out at Matty Moroun and Dan Stamper today and ordered a penalty outside the bounds of a civil case that was excessive, unwarranted and outrageous.
“This is the same judge that refused repeated requests for site visits to actually see construction on the Gateway Project. This entire legal process has clearly become a personal vendetta by the judge against these individuals.”
On FOX 2 Detroit last night, Matthew T. Moroun indicated that he thinks Judge Edwards has a personal vendetta against his father.
"As you know, the Judge's son was recently appointed by the Governor the day before Thanksgiving to a $150,000 a year judgeship job at 36th District Court," said Moroun.
Governor Snyder strongly supports the construction of a second international bridge crossing over the Detroit River - something the Moroun family has been actively fighting with a multi-million dollar ad blitz.
The plan for a second bridge was defeated in the Michigan legislature late last year.
"When we defeated the governor's plan in the legislature, the judges's son was appointed less than one month later. And my Dad was thrown in jail less than two months after that," said Moroun.
Very little was discussed about the details of the Judge's orders to the Moroun family on the program.
To get a better idea of what the issue is, the Detroit Free Press offers this graphic showing how the Moroun family did not build the Gateway Project according to agreed upon plans.
Moroun and Stamper spent the night in the Wayne County jail. The Detroit Free Press reports that the billionaire and his executive wore green prison garb and were held in a cell which offered little privacy:
Just like other inmates, the two were offered chicken-fried steak for dinner. Their mug shots were taken, and the two shared a 10-by-15-foot cell in an isolated wing.
Lawyers for the two jailed Ambassador Bridge executives have been trying to win their release at the Michigan Appeals Court.
"The incarceration of Mr. Moroun and Mr. Stamper violates federal and state constitutional rights to due process, and conflicts with the well-established procedures set-out by statute (MCL 600.1711(2) and MCL 600.1715) court rule (MCR 3.606) for finding and punishing contempt."
In his piece today, Jeff Watrick of MLive writes that Moroun's legacy may now be an eroding of trust in public-private partnerships:
Right now, private ownership apparently means a multi-year legal battle is required to ensure bridge-to-freeway connections are built.
It’s increasingly hard to argue this “private-sector solution” for North America’s busiest commercial border crossing remains viable. And that, more than anything else, may be Matty Moroun’s ulitimate legacy.
Thursday, January 12, 7:00 pm:
The Michigan Court of Appeals has denied Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Maroun and president Dan Stamper's appeal requesting their release from jail.
A Judge has found the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge in contempt of court.
Update 2:17 p.m.
Here's an update from the Associated Press with reaction from the Ambassador Bridge owners:
DETROIT (AP) - The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says a judge is wrong to find it in contempt for failing to finish work on a project linking the U.S.-Canada span with two Detroit interstates.
Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards will wait until Jan. 12 to order a penalty, but he wants bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Maroun at that hearing.
Detroit International Bridge Company says piers have been properly built and more work will be completed by January. It says it will appeal the judge's contempt order announced Thursday.
The state of Michigan sued the company after it failed to meet a deadline to finish its part of a $230 million project to improve traffic at the bridge linking Detroit and Ontario.
Traffic on the Ambassador Bridge was backed up briefly coming into Detroit Thursday evening. That’s because protesters targeting bridge owner Matty Moroun blocked traffic.
The demonstrators included a State Representative, members of the ongoing Occupy Detroit movement, union members and southwest Detroit residents. They’re all angry at Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun—who they say has illegally seized land, ignored court orders, and bought political influence in Lansing and elsewhere.
Detroit resident Maya Williamson said the neighborhood is noisy and polluted because bridge traffic is forced onto residential streets—and she’s tired of it.
“The noise, and the traffic through the school area and through the neighborhoods…it’s horrendous. There’s gotta be a stop put to it, you know. You can’t just trample over citizens for money,"said Williamson.
No protesters were arrested. They left after about an hour, chanting “We’ll be back.”
For months, everybody interested in the possibility of a new bridge over the Detroit River had waited for the State Senate Economic Development Committee to take a vote.
Not that this would settle much of anything -- except to decide whether to let the full senate decide whether to vote. Most of the committee members have taken political contributions from the owner of the ancient Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun.
Here’s something you may not know about journalists: We have a pretty high standard of integrity, especially when it comes to conflicts of interest. We normally don’t cover any events in which we have any kind of personal interest -- especially economic interest.
Any time we even suspect we may have any conflict, we are obliged to tell our bosses, and our public. There are some gray areas, but I can tell you this. If I did a commentary urging you to support someone who gave me thousands of dollars, I’d be fired.
The Senate Economic Development Committee, which is considering legislation to create a public authority to take bids on the bridge, will hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday and vote on the two bridge bills at the end of Wednesday's session, according to a schedule released Friday.
But, as the Detroit News notes, it’s unclear whether the Legislature will pass the bills, “in fact, it wasn't clear Friday if there were enough votes to get the bills out of committee, which has five Republicans and two Democrats… Republicans have generally opposed the public bridge, while Democrats have supported it.”
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun is opposed to the project, which he sees as unfair government encroachment on his private business. He has spent millions on TV ads and lobbying against the public bridge. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce recently joined most other business and labor groups in supporting the project.
Snyder has said the bridge will be publicly owned, but privately financed, built and managed. The legislation says the bridge is to be built at no cost and no risk to taxpayers. Opponents say they are skeptical of that promise.
Canada has offered to front $550 million to pay Michigan's share of the project costs and would recover the money from bridge tolls. The bridge is estimated to cost just less than $1 billion. The total project — including plazas and connecting roadways on both sides of the river — is estimated to cost about $3.6 billion.
Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry has been writing extensively over the years about the bridge controversy:
The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are once again attacking Governor Snyder’s push to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
The company says experts it hired say the proposed bridge would not attract the billions in federal money promised by the governor and would end up costing Michigan taxpayers money.
Matt Moroun is the vice chair of the Ambassador Bridge company. He says "building a new bridge to Canada will not garner any more federal funds for highways in Michigan…then what Michigan gets ordinarily from the feds every year.”
Pretend you are a judge, let me give you some undisputed facts, and then tell me how you would make up your mind.
The top business leaders of this state strongly support a new bridge over the Detroit River. So do the major leaders of both political parties. The bridge wouldn’t cost the taxpayers of Michigan a cent.
What’s more, the bridge would instantly mean billions of dollars and thousands of desperately needed jobs for our poor battered state. Not when it was completed, but right away, right now.
That’s because the federal government has agreed to count money Canada is giving us to cover our costs as state matching money for federal highway funds. That would mean two point two billion dollars to fix our roads and bridges.
A report from the Anderson Economic Group has offered some clarity to the debate over a new international bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor.
A little background in case you have sat this story out thus far:
Governor Rick Snyder has been pushing the idea of a new bridge two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge, known as the New International Trade Crossing(NITC).
It would connect up I-75 and Highway 401 in Canada.
The Ambassador Bridge owners, the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), don't want competition from another bridge. Owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun has been fighting against the proposed bridge with a $4.7 million television ad blitz.
The ads say Michigan taxpayers could be on the hook for the costs of theNew International Trade Crossing if plans don't pan out.
Moroun is proposing to build a second span next to the Ambassador Bridge to ease congestion.
The report from the Anderson Economic Group analyzes both proposals (NITC vs. DIBC).
The bottom line of the report from several media reports out today is that the new bridge (NITC) would ease congestion currently felt at the Detroit-Windsor crossing, and a second span of the Ambassador Bridge would not (DIBC).
The Detroit International Bridge Co.'s proposed second bridge between Detroit and Canada would not eliminate the current congestion on both sides of the border but the New International Trade Crossing bridge would do so, according to an independent study released today by the Anderson Economic Group.
A proposed government-owned bridge over the Detroit River, with additional U.S. Customs booths, would do a better job reducing border traffic congestion and handling future traffic than a second Ambassador Bridge span, says a new independent report released today.
A proposed bridge two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge would alleviate border congestion, but a new span beside the Ambassador would not, according to a study released Tuesday.
Finding no. 3 in the report states that the obligation to repay borrowed funds for the construction costs of either bridge does not rest with Michigan taxpayers. That finding assumes that protections for Michigan taxpayers are in place for "statute and bond covenants."
Jeff Watrick over at MLive has a nice summary of the 7 findings of the report.
Our lawmakers are preparing to wind up business for the summer, and Governor Rick Snyder has racked up an astonishing record of legislative success. True, his party has heavy majorities in both houses, and there was a broad consensus that Michigan needed change. But he got lawmakers to agree very quickly to major reforms that faced entrenched opposition.
Taxing pensions, for one thing. True, he had to compromise, finally agreeing to exempt most of those already receiving them. But that he got Republicans to agree to a tax increase at all was something like getting a vegan to eat a hamburger.
The changes in the Emergency Financial Manager law and in the rules covering binding arbitration for government employees will have profound effects in years to come.
In six months, this governor has accomplished more than his predecessor did in four years. But he has so far failed at one thing, something that would have seemed an easy sell.
The proposal to build a new bridge across the Detroit River, the New International Trade Crossing. The facts indicate this should be a no-brainer. The Ambassador Bridge is old. Canada wants and needs a new bridge so much it will cover all Michigan‘s costs.
Not only that. The federal government will allow Michigan to use the $550 million Canada is offering us as matching money to get two billion dollars in badly needed federal highway funds.
Yet the governor had to postpone a vote on the bridge because he’s been unable to win over most in his own party. To understand their thinking, I talked yesterday with one of the rising stars in the Michigan Republican Party, Senator Tonya Schuitmaker.
A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Canada testified before a state Senate committee in Lansing today.
He spoke with a handful of lawmakers who appear annoyed by conflicting information.
Matt Moroun told lawmakers that a proposal to build a publically owned bridge between Detroit and Canada is unnecessary because traffic is down, and tolls would not cover the construction costs.
But he also says the company is prepared to build a second bridge.
That prompted this question from Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen:
“If you receive a permit, will you build a second span?”
“The next day we’ll start. Promise.”
Republican state Senator Mike Nofs asked why the Ambassador Bridge owners would want to build a second bridge.
“Why would you build a second bridge the next day if you can’t make the money? The tolls aren’t going to be there. The traffic isn’t going to be there," Nofs said. "It’s going to cost you a lot more money, and you have to expand the roadways on both sides, and you have a government against you apparently right now - Canada - why would you build a second span?”
Moroun says his family’s company needs to build another bridge because the Ambassador Bridge is about 80 years old, and costs a lot of money to maintain.
Democratic state Senator Virgil Smith from Detroit says the Ambassador Bridge owners are controversial figures in the city.
“If you want to proceed with this – with the new project, with the new bridge – I think you’re going to have to clean up a number of your actions in southeast Michigan to do so, or I don’t see it happening no time soon," Smith said.
Many state senators expressed frustration with what they view as a slew of contradictory studies about whether a publically owned bridge would be profitable to taxpayers, or a burden.
Hearings on the bridge issue will continue next week.
Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it.
The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.
A state Senate committee opened hearings yesterday on legislation that would start the process of building a new bridge connecting Detroit to Canada.
The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor-Ontario.
Governor Rick Snyder would like the Legislature to approve the initial stages of the bridge project by the end of the month.
Representatives of Governor Snyder’s administration and the Canadian government were on hand to insist the new bridge is an economic necessity that would not cost Michigan taxpayers any money.
Canada has committed to pay all the construction costs with repayment coming from tolls.
Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Michigan, says both Michigan and Canada would benefit from expanded border access.
“There are jobs in almost every county of Michigan that depend on companies being able to move things back and forth across the frontier with Canada,” said Norton.
The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are trying to stop the project.
Matthew Moroun’s family owns the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun will testify today before the state Senate Economic Development Committee.
“We intend to show the actual statistics," said Moroun. "You know, we’ve been in the bridge business for 30-some years, and you learn a lot about the bridge business from being in the bridge business, I can tell you.”
Moroun says the state and Canada cannot credibly guarantee taxpayers’ money is not at stake in going ahead with a new bridge.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is the governor’s lead negotiator to win legislative support of the bridge. He says a new border crossing in southeastern Michigan is critical to the economic future of the entire state.
“Our biggest customer is Canada," said Calley. "We sell more to Canada than anybody else. They buy more of our goods than anybody else, and so we need more access, better access to that market if Michigan is to be successful.”
Calley and the Snyder administration face skeptics in the Legislature.
Opponents of a new bridge say traffic studies show there’s no need for a new bridge. They also say the state should not be backing a public bridge to compete with a private business.
Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they remain skeptical the deal would be good for Michigan taxpayers or that a new bridge is necessary, and they say it will take more before they’ll cast a vote in favor of it.
A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit has acknowledged giving money to a group that’s working to stop the construction of a competing bridge – including plastering a neighborhood with fake eviction notices.
But Matthew Moroun says his family had nothing to do with the flyers.
We live in highly polarized times. But even by those standards, it is remarkable how much those who support a new bridge over the Detroit River, and those who oppose it, differ.
Differ not just on the merits of a new bridge, but on the most basic facts. Those who oppose the new bridge claim that Michigan taxpayers could be stuck for a hundred million dollars a year. Those who oppose the new bridge - mainly, those who work for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge - Matty Moroun - say that traffic has been declining and another structure isn’t needed.
But they say Moroun is willing to build one anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers, and that this is best left to private enterprise. Those who want a new bridge say it is very much needed, that this is not “socialism” but a public-private partnership. They say the old bridge is wearing out, there is no backup, and that a new one will be desperately needed if Michigan is to be economically competitive.