Law firm billings prompt trustees’ questions
Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox
Oct. 31, 2015 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Two paid invoices addressed to the attention of Supervisor Shannon Price suggest the township has made a surprise change in legal counsel on two major issues.
The invoices, included on a monthly expense report prepared for the members of the board of trustees, prompted a tense exchange during the regular meeting of the board members last week. Trustees Bob Doroshewitz and Chuck Curmi questioned Price, Treasurer Ron Edwards and Clerk Nancy Conzelman about the invoices to the township from the law firm of former Michigan State Attorney General Mike Cox. The invoices included fees of $2,810 for work regarding the “Plymouth Township vs. Plymouth Joint Fire Retirement Retiree Issue.” A second invoice for $2,560 was for legal work on the matter of “Plymouth Township vs. Detroit- DeHoCo.” The total on one invoice, indicating there was a previous balance for legal work on the fire department retirement cost issue was for a total of $6,035.
Doroshewitz and Curmi said they questioned the charges from the Cox law firm, because the township has for decades been represented by Hemming, Polaczyk, Cronin, Witthoff and Bennett. Kevin Bennett, the attorney who has been handling the DeHoCo lawsuit in which Detroit is demanding return of a $15 million parcel of land, also acts as township magistrate in the 35th District Court, is full time counsel for the township and attends all monthly board meetings. His law partner Timothy Cronin, who is now retired, unsuccessfully argued against Detroit attorneys who are demanding the return of the land the township purchased at an improper tax sale. The land is the site of the former Detroit House of Corrections and the case is now in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Bennett is the attorney of record representing the township.
Doroshewitz asked Price if he had made a unilateral decision in hiring Cox and wanted to know when the township changed law firms.
“Page 70 Legal Services for legal expenses going to Mike Cox. Mike Cox is a friend of yours, you used to work in his office. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a friend, but you need to stay away from the line. You should have notified the board. You crossed a line when you didn’t notify the board,” Doroshewitz said. “The problem is you were hiring legal counsel when we already had counsel. That was redundant,” Doroshewitz said.
“When did we talk about hiring Mike Cox Law Firm?” he asked.
Cox, a high-ranking Republican Party leader and Price are known political associates.
Mike and Laura Cox attended their first-ever Plymouth Township Board of Trustees meeting last April to congratulate Price after his controversial appointment to the supervisor’s job, replacing Richard Reaume, who retired mid-term and moved to Florida.
The Price-Cox alliance goes back to 2002 when Price worked for Cox during his political campaign against Democratic candidate Gary Peters. Price then worked in Cox’ office under political director Stu Sandler and later for Attorney General Bill Schuette. He remained in that job until he was elected to the Wayne County Commission seat in 2012.
“He’s a former attorney general,” Price said in response to Doroshewitz.
Edwards responded that he orchestrated the Cox contract.
“I…reached out to Mike Cox last October. I talked to Richard Reaume,” Edwards said.
“So you made this decision?” Doroshewitz pressed.
Edwards responded that there was nothing in the township purchasing policy that stipulated he, Conzelman or Price have to “reach out to the board.”
Curmi said there were no invoices or detail for the legal services from the Cox firm provided to the trustees.
The Eagle obtained copies of the actual invoices showing the detailed hourly billings. The charges were incurred during the month of September 2015, with the exception of $3,225 listed as a previous balance for work on the fire department retiree issue.
One $200 entry read, “Call with Mr. Richard Reaume regarding fire services agreement, health care costs contract language, and outstanding issues.”
Another $100 fee was described as: “Meeting with Michael Cox to discuss Kevin Bennett’s Court of Appeals brief.”
The dispute between the city and the township centers on retirement costs the township claims the city owes as a result of the joint fire department agreement which was disbanded in 2012. Township officials claim the city owes about $1.3 million in health care retirement costs. City officials have questioned the accuracy of the amount claimed by the township. The invoice from Cox’ office includes costs for “correspondence from Mr. Price on cheatsheet for meeting with city” and “drafting discussion points” for Sept. 9 “meeting with City of Plymouth.”
Plymouth officials said the city has never been involved in a direct civil action of this type.
Photo: Associated Press