A Detroit federal court judge ordered sanctions Monday against law firm Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill & Garner P.C. for what were called “frivolous claims” connected to a lawsuit involving a citizen who spoke up against a former Dayton Township official.
Monday’s order from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan stems from a civil rights lawsuit filed in April by the firm against Dayton Township and others. It was filed on behalf of three residents who claim they suffered four years of discrimination, harassment and humiliation.
The suit lists 12 counts related to what the plaintiffs allege are violations of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Allegations run the gamut, from a racist sign the plaintiffs say was meant to intimidate to ignoring Freedom of Information Act requests and even a calculated plan to oust a board member who threatened “to reveal the public corruption.”
The suit was filed on behalf of James Satchel, a former trustee, and residents Robert Adams and Rod Merten.
They seek an injunction to stop the defendants from engaging in what they view as unlawful disruption along with $1 million in damages resulting from “emotional distress,” among other things.
In addition to Dayton Township, the suit also names several current and former township officials. Dayton Township resident Richard Horsch also was named as a defendant.
Horsch was named in the suit for speaking more than the allotted time during public comment time and leading recall efforts against Satchel, essentially claiming he was working with elected officials.
“The Board allowed Richard Horsch, a resident, to give a five (5) minute presentation, which is more than the normal amount allotted for public comment, where Horsch claimed Mr. Satchel didn’t treat another resident, Joe Peet, fairly,” states the complaint, which also alludes to Horsch’s efforts to recall Satchel.
Attorneys for Horsch filed motions to dismiss the claims and sanctions in June. Horsch said Tuesday that the lawsuit has been a “disturbing” ordeal because he only sought to get involved in local politics.
The court set a date of Nov. 3 for the motions to be heard, but Monday’s order essentially states that the firm Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill & Garner – and specifically attorney Brian Garner – simply ignored court orders to show cause why Horsch’s motions shouldn’t be granted.
The Lapeer-based firm typically is on the other side of things, representing many communities throughout Michigan’s thumb region, including several in Tuscola County such as Almer, Columbia, and Ellington townships, just to name a few.
“The Court concludes that this is one of those relatively rare instances where a monetary sanction, made payable to the movant, is necessary for effective deterrence,” said Monday’s order issued by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox.
“Plaintiffs’ Counsel filed a litany of claims against Defendant Horsch – a private citizen – after he spoke out at a public meeting about an elected official, and filed two proposed recall petitions. The claims asserts against him were clearly without factual or legal support from the onset.”
Cox goes on to state that the firm failed “to dismiss the frivolous claims asserted against Horsch, even when faced with a properly supported Motion to Dismiss.”
“Mr. Garner failed to file any response to the Motion to Dismiss and completely ignored” the motion related to sanctions, Cox said.
Horsch must now submit an itemized statement of attorney fees to the court and “the Court will then determine the appropriate sanction to be awarded.” His motion to be dismissed from the case also was granted.
Garner told The Advertiser Tuesday that he hadn’t filed anything with regard to Horsch’s motions because he expected Horsch to be dropped from the case.
“We had already been negotiating with Horsch’s attorney to let Horsch out,” he said. “We thought there was more of a connection at first with Horsch and (Dayton Township Supervisor Robert Cook.
“So when they filed the motion, we didn’t respond because were were negotiating already to let him out,” Garner said.
Garner said, however, the court issued its order before Horsch could be dismissed.
As a result, Garner said he expects Monday’s order to be vacated.
As of press time Tuesay, however, Monday’s order stood.
Horsch told The Advertiser he was pleased with what he called a “landmark decision.”
“It affirms my right to participate in the political process without being harassed,” he said. “And other than that, it speaks for itself.”
Garner said the rest of the case is on track with depositions being taken this week.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com