The Michigan Court of Appeals released Detroit International Bridge Company owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun and president Dan Stamper from Wayne County Jail Friday evening after the two men spent the night behind bars.
Moroun and Stamper appeared in court Thursday to face sentencing on contempt of court charges in an ongoing dispute between the Ambassador Bridge company and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards sent Moroun and DIBC President Dan Stamper to jail for failing to comply with a court order to finish construction on the Gateway project, which is meant to connect the Ambassador Bridge to area freeways.
Edwards's ruling was expected to place Moroun and Stamper in jail pending completion of DIBC's portion of the Gateway project. Working to avoid extended jail time, lawyers for the two men filed a motion requesting their clients to be released pending appeal. Their initial request was denied on Thursday evening, but according to Crain's Detroit, a court panel put a stay on Judge Edwards's order.
Moroun left the courthouse on Friday night with Stamper, greeted by son Matthew Moroun, the Free Press reported.
"I'm fine. I love our country," he told reporters. "It's the best country in the world."
The dispute began with a 2004 agreement between MDOT and DIBC that directed the agency and the company to build separate parts of the Gateway project, but MDOT alleges the bridge company did not follow the agreed-upon plan. In February 2010, Judge Edwards ruled in the government agency's favor, ordering DIBC to properly complete the project.
In November, Edwards found Moroun and Stamper in contempt of court for failing to complete the construction work.
In December, Moroun's attorneys filed a motion to excuse him from the case, claiming Moroun is not the owner of DIBC. Instead, DIBC is owned by DIBC Holdings, Inc., attorneys said, and the "Manuel J. Moroun Trust ... is a minority owner of DIBC Holdings."
Edwards dismissed that argument, but lawyers sought to keep the 84-year-old billionaire out of jail by tendering his resignation, or even offering to serve the sentence on Moroun's behalf, Local 4 News reports.
DIBC and Moroun have long faced intense criticism from residents of the Southwest Detroit neighborhood where the bridge is located. Community members say bridge-related truck traffic on city streets is hazardous, causing air pollution and endangering motorists.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest international crossing in North America.
Local activists teamed up with Occupy Detroit in October to protest DIBC, blocking traffic on the bridge.
Joe McGuire, a member of Occupy Detroit's Direct Action committee, was part of the Ambassador Bridge protest.
"I'm happy to see the right people being put in jail for once," he said. "Instead of all the people who were protesting the 1 percent and the crimes they commit, you actually have the people who committed those crimes going to jail."
"I'm sure the people in the Southwest community around the bridge are feeling some sort of validation," he added.
Moroun and Stamper are due back in court Feb. 2.
This is a developing story.
01/13/2012 5:28 PM EST
Moroun Set To Be Released
Matty Maroun and Dan Stemper are to be released pending an appeal of yesterday's ruling.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered their release after receiving many motions from lawyers for the two DIBC execs.
01/13/2012 12:38 PM EST
Moroun's Lawyers FIle Request For Appeal
Moroun and Stamper's lawyers are working furiously to get their clients released from jail. The Michigan Court of Appeals accepted their request for appeal Thursday night, but denied their request for release.
"Attorneys for Moroun at Detroit-based Kerr Russell & Weber plc and for Stamper at Lake Orion-based Mogill Posner & Cohen filed an emergency appeal late Thursday. The court agreed after 6 p.m. to take the appeal but denied a separate motion for release while the appeal was pending.
'Mr. Moroun is in his eighties and has had two heart procedures. He is a long-time Michigan resident and deeply rooted to the community. There is no danger whatever that, if released pending appeal of the trial court's finding of contempt, he would fail to appear as required by…(this) or any other court,' said a brief from Kerr Russell."
On Friday morning, lawyers refiled their request for release.
01/13/2012 11:24 AM EST
History Of The Gateway Project
The Free Press has a brief timeline, starting in the 1990s, to show the history of the Gateway Project dispute and how Moroun ended up in jail. Click here for a refresher.
01/13/2012 9:16 AM EST
Exclusive Interview with CBS Detroit
CBS Detroit has an exclusive interview with Matthew Moroun, Matty Moroun's son.
Matthew Moroun believes the judge and MDOT is biased towards his family.
"He's waiting for the day when he can defend himself in court rather than show up and be imprisoned," Moroun said. "This is personal."
"MDOT is doing everything they can to make sure the project doesn't finish," he added.
01/12/2012 3:37 PM EST
Matty Moroun And Dan Stamper Mug Shots
WXYZ also has the mug shots for Moroun and Stamper, who were booked Thursday. Click here to view.
01/12/2012 1:44 PM EST
Matthew Moroun Releases Statement
The Free Press has this statement from Matty Moroun's son, Matthew Moroun, released Thursday:
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.
01/12/2012 1:14 PM EST
What's All The Fuss About?
The Detroit News has a good explainer of MDOT's lawsuit against the Bridge Company:
The Gateway Project, which began construction in February 2008, realigns Interstates 75 and 96 to create new entrance and exit ramps to the Ambassador Bridge, as well as Mexicantown, and seeks to remove truck traffic from residential streets in southwestern Detroit.
Read the News' full list of "sticking points" here.
01/12/2012 12:52 PM EST
Freep Speculates On Accommodations Awaiting Moroun, Stamper
The Free Press describes the VIP Wayne County Jail cells, once occupied by the likes of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Jack Kevorkian, that may soon hold Moroun and Stamper:
At 15 feet by 10 feet, the cells are roughly twice the size of a normal one. The cell that housed Kilpatrick had one bed, with rails like a hospital gurney, and the mattress was thin and rubber-coated.
Otherwise, the room had a tiny table and a plastic blue chair for reading, and a generous number of windows by jail standards. The three vertical glass slits offer a good view of the south side of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, which houses Wayne County Circuit Court.
Depending on how long their stay will be, Moroun and Stamper might want to request a TV. Kilpatrick was allowed to bring one in.
Still, it's "no country club, " Evans once said. "It's not anything anyone wants to come back to."
01/12/2012 12:09 PM EST
Freep: MDOT Won't Be Satisfied Until Construction Underway
While Moroun and Stamper will be jailed until they comply with court orders to complete the Gateway project, there are currently aren't specifics about what compliance means.
But the state will only be satisfied with real signs of construction, MDOT chief operating officer Greg Johnson said.
The state wants to see “construction of the truck road, granting of properties that was agreed to in the original contract conveyed to us ... so we can build our portion,” Johnson said after the hearing.
01/12/2012 11:58 AM EST
Community Members Applaud Judge's Decision
Deb Sumner, who lives in southwest Detroit and has been active around the Gateway project, was in the courtroom audience at the hearing, along with a dozen other community residents.
"I've been doing this for over 30 years, watching this bridge company owner behave in horrible ways," she said. "They've been a horrible corporate neighbor."
Sumner said she and her neighbors broke into applause in the courtroom when Edwards read his orders.
"We're so pleased to see justice prevail; that's really the bottom line," she said. "It doesn't matter who you are, or how much power or political power or money you have. The law is the law."