- People v. Ramsey…Trial Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court presentation that sought to establish that the (then new) “Guilty but Mentally Ill” verdicts were a flawed (sleight of hand), “due process” violation that distracted jurors from deliberating the tough decision of whether defendants were legally insane. Instead, jurors were automatically invited to compromise their deliberations…by, on the one hand, finding defendants “guilty” to protect society and, on the other hand, compassionately providing future, mental health care for defendants by finding them “mentally ill” (but little did the jury know that no mental health care would be provided). Even though “mental illness” (by statutory definition) meant the jury had just found that the defendant was, at the time of the crime, schizophrenic (thought disorder) and/or that the defendant had a bipolar (mood) disorder that kept the defendant from recognizing reality, any defendant found “Guilty but Mentally Ill” just went to prison without any mental health care provided by the State of Michigan or its Bureau of Prisons:“
A 2010 University of Michigan study found that more than 20% of the state’s prisoners – about 10,000 inmates out of a population of 45,000 – had severe mental disabilities. The same study found that 65%of those with severe mental disabilities had received no treatment in the previous 12 months.” (Detroit Free Press 2/5/12…Punishment, instead of treatment, for mental illness – Jeff Gerritt).
Even though the cause was lost, “Guilty but Mentally Ill” verdicts were unconstitutional in the 1970s when they were first challenged, and continue to be unconstitutional today…30 plus years later.
- People v. Smith. Robert Smith (“Smitty”) left his job picking cotton in Alabama and headed north on a Greyhound bus with a “one way” ticket financed by the sale of his mother’s only cow…reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk. Smitty ended up at the General Motors forge plant in Detroit operating an overhead crane. Smitty was an easy “county bumpkin” target for his black supervisor, Jimmie Gaston and his cohorts. After enduring constant threats to his employment and manhood, Smitty snapped and walked 600 yards through the GM Plant grounds with a loaded shot gun yelling out: “come out Jimmy Gaston,” “come out Jimmy Gaston.” Smitty found Gaston at a Labor Relations meeting and fired the shotgun at Gaston, striking and injuring him and superficially wounding Christine Gerstenberg, daughter of General Motors CEO, Richard Gerstenberg. Obviously, (for plant security reasons and because one of the victims was the CEO’s daughter), Smitty’s trial was a high priority, special project for General Motors. As court appointed attorney, I raised an insanity defense and then squared off against General Motors, the State of Michigan, the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and eminent, psychiatric, forensic expert, Ames Robey, M.D., who had just defeated F. Lee Bailey’s insanity defense in the Albert DeSalvo “Boston Strangler” case. When the smoke cleared, however, Robert Smith prevailed with a “not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.”
- Spraggins v. Detroit Police Department… A 19 year-old homeless kid, Eric Spraggins, was trespassing in the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Detroit to keep from freezing to death…as he sustained himself on the leftover morsels of food that hotel patrons put outside their hotel room after dining with “room service.” When the hotel and the Detroit Police Department caught on, a chase ensued and Spraggins was caught and pummeled with a Detroit Police service revolver, and within weeks he exhibited erratic physical and emotional behavior and was hospitalized at the Northville State Psychiatric Hospital with an “schizophrenia” diagnosis. The issue…was the “schizophrenia” a natural occurring, coincidental, medical condition (that generally surfaces in the late teens or early 20s), or was it caused by the head trauma of the excessive force, pistol whipping? A federal court jury awarded $2.4 million verdict, and, after further appeals, this “no offer” case was settled for $3.9 million.
- People v. Sandoval…Antonio Sandoval was a 21-year-old graduate of the renowned Holy Redeemer Catholic High School in Southwest Detroit. Tony was a good student and a tough kid, but a kid who avoided trouble and was doing something with his life…pursuing an apprenticeship in carpentry. His Irish uncle, Patrick Foley, was a chain smoking, supervising attorney in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office when I was an assistant Wayne County Prosecutor in 1970/1971. On St. Patrick’s Day 2001, Tony and his 19 year old girlfriend, Lucinda Anaya, ended up at “Blind Pig” on Jefferson near Westend across from Zug Island (in the old Hungarian Delray section of Detroit) celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Tony and his girlfriend, Lucinda, were alone in a small room, when they were suddenly surrounded by five members of the Cash Flow Posse Gang of Southwest Detroit who started to lean on Tony Sandoval verbally and on his girlfriend, Lucinda, physically. The gang member’s “in your face” modus operandi was the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.” A gun was brandished, a struggle ensued, and, when the smoke cleared,19-year-old Lucinda Anaya, and gang member John Waugh were dead…each shot in the head. Tony Sandoval turned himself in and was charged with two counts of Murder One and was confined to a 6 x 10 foot cell in the Wayne County Jail as his 19-year-old girlfriend, Lucinda, was being buried out of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. At trial, the gang members (a ruthless bunch) pinned the deaths on a beserk Tony Sandoval who they claim got into a verbal dispute over his girlfriend Lucinda, pulled a gun, started shooting and intentionally killed Johnnie Waugh and accidentally killed his girlfriend. After a two week trial and a short deliberation, the jury rejected the testimony of the gang members and acquitted Tony Sandoval sending him back to the “mean streets” of gang-infested Southwest Detroit leaving him with the full time job of surviving future retaliation.
- Miller and Cohen v. Martens, Ice, et al…The Miller Cohen labor law firm split up in the year 2000 when senior, founding partners, Bruce Miller and Norbert Cohen, walked out the door, grabbed as many labor union clients as they could, and then claimed in their Oakland County lawsuit that they were illegally forced out of the law firm (they founded) by the seven younger, “ingrate” defendant lawyers…all in violation of their just cause employment contracts and the original articles of incorporation. Three major law firms represented the plaintiff lawyers while I represented the seven younger defendant lawyers. After three and half weeks of trial (with the plaintiff lawyers’ airing their non-ending complaints of mistreatment) and after a parade of hard core, tough union leaders (Harry Lester of the United Steel Workers, Flo Walker of AFSCME and Noel Mullet of Local 58 Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) singing the praises of the plaintiff (founding father) lawyers, the jury rejected the $4 million dollar damage claim of the plaintiff lawyers and awarded my seven lawyer clients $1.2 million on their counter claim.
- Khalil v. Khalil…The Khalil brothers, Monier and Samier (two fatherless kids), grew up in “Corktown” near Tiger Stadium in the 1940s and 1950s. They started the “Devil Restaurant” (now O’Blivions) a block west of Tiger Stadium…then Briggs Stadium. The Khalil Brothers (Monier and Samier) bought up buildings on Michigan Avenue and also bought neighborhood homes…which they leveled and used for parking lots for fans attending Tiger baseball games and Detroit Lion football games. The Khalil brothers eventually owned numerous buildings on Michigan Avenue (United Shirt Building, the Murphy Building, Pie Building, Batter’s Box Bar, Bill Reedy’s Bar, the Souvenir Shop, O’Blivions Restaurant, the Chinese Restaurant and the St. Boniface Church) as well as a substantial parking lot holdings which generated $300,000 to $400,000 a year in (reported) taxable, parking lot income. In the early 1990s, Monier’s health was failing, and, three days before Monier’s death, his brother Samier seized the moment, and talked his dying brother Monier into transferring ten shares of stock breaking up their 50-50 partnership for the first time ever,…and all on the basis of Samier’s promise that he would financially take care of Monier’s widow after Monier’s death. Monier died three days later, and Samier’s “death bed” promise went unfulfilled for the next year as Samier paid himself $150,000 in a total wage and benefit package (plus any and all cash he scooped off the cash parking lot revenue)…while giving Monier’s widow the paltry sum of $2,300 for the year. Monier’s estate sued Samier who brought in three lawfirm’s to represent himself and the business. Seven years of litigation followed, and, after a victorious six week trial the Wayne County Circuit Court and after victories in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, Monier’s family finally regained their 50% ownership status…after which the substantial real estate holdings were divided up between Samier and Monier’s family in kind.
- Rupersburg v. Etkin, et al… A 28 year old journeyman electrician was seriously injured during the construction of the Marriott Hotel in Pontiac, Michigan when a wind blown crane load knocked a 24 pound guard rail post off a safety perimeter of the 8th floor. The guard rail post fell eight stories, gathering speed at each passing floor, finally exploding into the head, neck, face and shoulder of electrician Jeff Rupersburg seriously injuring him. Jeff survived but the quality of his life didn’t. Four defendants and four lawfirms made no offers. The jury return an $8.1 verdict. After exhausting all appeals, the verdict was paid.
- People v. Wade… A 47 year old security guard securing the Detroit Police Auto Impound Yard fired a warning shot into the ground to scare off a 52 year-old, fugitive thief, “intruder of the night,” who had thrown a tire iron at Michael Wade. The 52 year-old intruder was killed with a (“one-in-a-million chance”) ricochet shot. Michael Wade was (unbelievably) charged with murder one. The trial judge, who freely admitted her general bias against security guards (whom she use to prosecute for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office), refused to disqualify herself. Then, when a not guilty verdict was on the horizon, she drafted and forced a non standard, jury verdict form on the jury leaving the jury no option but to convict the defendant security guard of at least manslaughter …no matter how the jury felt. The jury announced their “not guilty” verdict verbally, but since the flawed jury verdict form required the jury to check the box that said manslaughter, the defendant, Michael Wade, although innocent, was sentence to prison for five years to 15 years (although the probation report recommended probation). After almost four years in prison, this grave miscarriage of justice was righted by a conservative Court of Appeals panel three to zero and by the Michigan Supreme Court seven to zero, and, most importantly, the flawed verdict form that directed a guilty verdict (and that, surprisingly, had been used by other judges) was permanently cast into a trash bin labeled “injustice” and taken out of circulation for good.