By Charles Sercombe
For $500,000 more, the city could finally put an end to a 40-year-old housing discrimination lawsuit.
Michael Barnhart, the attorney representing plaintiffs in the longstanding housing discrimination lawsuit, is seeking a court order to force the city to make that payment.
He told The Review several weeks ago that the city still has three houses to go before satisfying an agreement reached years ago to build 200 housing units.
The city, however, has said it has reached that agreement and is now challenging Barnhart’s motion in federal court.
City Manager Katrina Powell wouldn’t release the city’s motion in the matter because the city attorney said it was protected under attorney-client privilege.
The Review obtained a copy through the federal court in Detroit, and in fact anyone can see it through the court’s website.
City Attorney John Clark did not return a call for comment.
Retired Federal Judge Damon Keith is still overseeing the case, which was originally filed back in the 1970s.
So, what is in the motion submitted by Hamtramck City Attorney John Clark that the public supposedly can’t see?
Clark points out in his motion that since 2011 Barnhart has been “paid close to a million dollars in legal fees, money which could have been used to finish the remaining three houses and finally bring an end to this litigation.”
Clark also stressed that the city is still under state receivership and ultimately “the city does not have the dollars” to fund the latest request.
Included in Clark’s motion were city financial records breaking down payments made to Barnhart since 2011.
Asked to comment on Clark’s motion, Barnhart declined, saying: “I think it’s really, really inappropriate to comment on a matter pending in court.”
It is not immediately known when Judge Keith will decide on the motions.
City Councilmember Robert Zwolak, who has played a role as a city official in one position or another during much of the time the lawsuit has played out, said if the past is any guide, it’s likely Barnhart will get his request.
“Everything has been a done deal,” he said when it comes to granting Barnhart’s requests.
Zwolak also questioned why the city has been paying Barnhart legal fees since 2011, two years after the city’s funding source for the housing development was closed down by court agreement.
“Where were they before?” he said. “I don’t see where we have secure footing on this because we didn’t intervene before.”
Prior to a new city manager coming on board six months ago, the city was under the control of Emergency Manager Cathy Square for 18 months. Zwolak said he brought up the issue of Barnhart still being paid “but she (Square) wouldn’t acknowledge it.”