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.
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.
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.From Crain's Detroit:
"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.On Friday morning, lawyers refiled their request for release.
'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."
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.
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.
WXYZ also has the mug shots for Moroun and Stamper, who were booked Thursday. Click here to view.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents Southwest Detroit, has taken an active role in the controversy surrounding the Gateway project, rallying community members and leaders to pressure the DIBC to finish the project.
"The ruling today is going to support a much much more efficient international trade corridor," she said. "We're excited that we might actually get these trucks out of our neighborhood."
Tlaib said that the Gateway project will address issues with trucks driving through neighborhoods and having long lines and wait times.
"All that will be resolved as soon as these ramps are built," she said. "That's why it was publicly financed, why it was publicly supported."
"Now we can make sure it's built the right way."
Looking to the future, Tlaib hopes people will remember the bridge company's record on the Gateway Project in discussions about the New International Trade Crossing.
"It's very telling to see what they have done in the partnership with the Gateway project," she said. "In this case they did not stick to their word, stick to their contract. They went the opposite direction."
The NITC would provide a second span for the Detroit river, backed by both the American and Canadian governments. But the project has been hamstrung in part due to the bridge company's efforts to block legislation that would move the project forward.
"To sit there and try to resign, to try to say [Moroun's] not the owner ... having the lawyers use all kinds of unethical strategies to try to get him to not be held accountable -- that shows me how far they would go to avoid following local or state or federal policy," Tlaib said.
|@ detnews : Here is a photo of Matty Moroun's reaction to the judge's order to jail him and Stamper http://t.co/3Y3jRP03|
Joe Rashid, an activist with Bridgewatch Detroit, a community group that focuses on issues around the Ambassador Bridge, said Judge Edwards's decision was a matter of justice.
"I think he made a very non-biased judgment on really how businesses should be operating here in the city," Rashid said. "You shouldn't just ignore contracts and do your own thing, especially when it jeopardizes an entire community."
Rashid also cited the truck traffic on city streets as a major impact on the local community.
"We've been dealing with 10,000 trucks coming through our neighborhood every day waiting for this Gateway project to be completed," he said. "The whole purpose of this project was to get trucks off the streets."
Aaron Handelsman, who has lived on West Grand Boulevard in Southwest Detroit since May, told HuffPost Thursday's ruling is "a huge win for the Southwest Detroit community and the notion that people have the power to effect change and demand justice."
Community members, many of whom attended Moroun's sentencing hearing, have consistently voiced concerns over the Gateway project, and the problems resulting from the dispute between MDOT and DIBC.
Handelsman mentioned the "tremendous amount of truck traffic that is diverted onto residential streets because of the way the entrance and exit ramps are currently structured," as of particular concern to neighborhood residents.
"Idling trucks in the community certainly doesn't do anything to help improve the already pretty abysmal air quality of the neighborhood," he said. "Wee can smell diesel in our apartment, especially in the summer."
Hubbard Farms resident Steve Sumner, who, along with his wife Deb, has been active in protesting the bridge company's actions, told HuffPost he was happy to see Moroun and Stamper sent to jail.
"It's just amazing and hopefully it does some good to get the project finished," he said.
Sumner said the long-delayed construction on the Gateway project had contributed to truck traffic on neighborhood streets and traffic problems in I-75.
"The traffic backups on the freeway and the accidents hat have happened where people have lost their lives because of what [Moroun] didn't do probably wouldn't have happened," he said.
In August, a man and his 2-year-old son were killed in a car crash on I-75. The accident was blamed in part on stalled traffic from semi trucks exiting the freeway and heading for the Ambassador Bridge.
MLive reports Judge Prentis Edwards has fined the bridge company ,500. The company will also have to pay MDOT's legal fees.