[This is the sixth installment of our "River of Corruption" series reporting on the public officials and institutions who aided, either by action or inaction, the scheme of the Toxic Towers developers to turn the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant into an unlicensed hazardous waste landfill.]
We know all the jokes about what rats, vultures, and snakes lawyers are. Like most jokes they are funny because there is truth in them. While I certainly do not believe most lawyers are corrupt, I do believe that their profession can be profoundly dispiriting. Seldom does an attorney get the opportunity to argue a case he is genuinely enthusiastic about on its merits. Instead he must argue whatever comes his way, and so other considerations come into play to motivate him. Too often that is winning for winning's sake (or more likely for the bucks his client will pay to do anything to win).
To keep them in line lawyers are, of course, bound by a code of ethics. In Michigan, this code is embodied by the Rules of Professional Conduct based largely on the ABA's model code. Most lawyers do pay heed to at least the most stringent requirements of the code. However, there exists a contingent of lawyers for whom the code represents no limits upon their conduct. They are aware that the courts and the agency policing them, the Attorney Grievance Commission, only address the most obvious and egregious attorney misconduct, if at all, so it's anything goes for them.
Let's introduce you to some of these outlaw lawyers, the Toxic Towers legal team ...
John Logie, formerly of Warner Norcross & Judd L.L.P. (now put out to pasture): During Boss Logie's long reign as Mayor of River City he continued to work as a senior partner at the law firm of Warner Norcross. Warner Norcross might pass as the region's white shoe law firm except that the lawyers there don't mind getting their hands dirty to get a deal done for their clients -- and as mayor Logie had his hands in everything.
One deal Logie took particular interest in was the Boardwalk project, the subject of this series. Little wonder. Two of Warner Norcross's biggest clients had interests in the project:  Old Kent Bank (now Fifth Third Bank) as one of the developers to convert the old furniture factory into a residential-commercial complex, and  Spectrum Health Corporation as the project's anchor tenant through its medical training consortium, G.R. Medical & Education Research Center. To succeed the Boardwalk project needed the City's help, and Logie stepped right in.
First, the Boardwalk developers wanted a tax subsidies, because the ill-conceived project would not otherwise be financially viable. To this end Logie used his public offices as mayor of Grand Rapids and as a member of the Monroe North Tax Increment Financing Authority to push through a $2.5 million taxpayer subsidy for the developers. (See more about this below.) He also used the office of mayor to petition the National Park Service to grant the Boardwalk project site historic landmark status, so that it would eligible for tax credits which Fifth Third would receive.
Second, when the Boardwalk project manager James Czanko complained that it was too expensive to clean the project site of its hazardous waste (mostly contaminated soil -- see "Poison" for details), Logie, as mayor, influenced the City Commission to sell one of the Boardwalk contractors the defunct Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant as a cheap dump for the project's hazardous waste.
Finally, when the City Commission received notice that the Boardwalk developers were using the Filtration Plant as a hazardous waste dump, Logie twice met with the commissioners in closed sessions and both times successfully lobbied them to shut down inquiries into the dumping allegations. Later Assistant City Attorney Daniel Ophoff had the minutes of these secret meetings destroyed which stopped them from becoming evidence in a federal proceeding. (See below for details.)
Dick Wendt of Dickinson Wright P.L.L.C.: As mentioned above, the Boardwalk developers sought a large taxpayer subsidy for their project. The City retained Wendt as a member of the Dickinson Wright law firm to negotiate a tax subsidy agreement. (See related story here.) However, he had no business in accepting this assignment, because Dickinson Wright was also representing the Boardwalk developers! A blatant conflict of interest, and to no surprise Wendt brought back to the City a generous $2.5 million taxpayer subsidy for the developers. Unfortunately, the City Commission, City Comptroller Stan Milanowski, and the Attorney Grievance Commission refused to redress Wendt's embrace of this conflict of interest.
William "Jay" Fisher of Dickinson Wright P.L.L.C. (and later Fisher & Dickinson P.C.): Fisher was the lead Dickinson Wright attorney representing the Boardwalk developers, their lead contractor Pioneer Incorporated, and Pioneer owner Thomas Beckering. When the project became landlocked because of street construction at the very time Pioneer needed to rapidly remove all of the hazardous contaminated soil from beneath the old furniture factory, Fisher presented false evidence to the Kent County Circuit Court that allowed his clients to take control of a neighbor's driveway connecting the project site to a public street. Thus, Fisher facilitated the removal the Boardwalk's hazardous waste to the Filtration Plant for permanent disposal.
Soon after this, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) initiated an inquiry into the Boardwalk developers' soil removal activities. Fisher helped his clients to frame an alibi denying any permanent removal of soil from the project site, contaminated or otherwise. When the local MDEQ response unit demanded evidence of this alibi, Fisher worked with Frank Marshall of Superior Environmental Corporation, the developers' environmental consultant, to produce a report that purportedly accounted for all soil removed from the site. As evidence, the report presented fraudulent affidavits from the project's key employees and phony soil test results. Fisher then delivered this report, known as the Marshall Report, to the MDEQ, which that agency relied upon to exonerate the Boardwalk developers and their contractors of any wrongdoing. (Superior Environmental has subsequently denied the validity of the Marshall Report to the Kent County Circuit Court.)
Gary Schenk of Schenk & Boncher P.C.: Schenk, as the attorney for Dykema Excavtors Inc., one of the lead contractors for the Boardwalk project and the owner of the Filtration Plant, found himself in a position similar to Fisher's when the MDEQ began its inquiry. To prepare a response to that inquiry, Schenk received a report from Prein & Newhof Inc., Dykema's environmental consultants, which indicated that his client had removed large quantities of "urban fill" (contaminated soil) from the Boardwalk site and disposed of it at the Filtration Plant. Schenk redacted that report, which left the impression that Dykema Excavators had not removed any contaminated soil from the Boardwalk site, and then forwarded his version of it to the MDEQ.
Schenk later buttressed his misleading redaction by sending to the MDEQ results for a soil test that he represented as typical of the soil Dykema Excavators had been working with. In fact the test was taken of recently placed clean fill at the project site. Furthermore, even though his client had on two occasions (including once in his presence) admitted to the MDEQ that Dykema Excavators had dumped Boardwalk soil at the Filtration Plant, Schenk denied this activity to the Kent County Circuit Court, the U.S. District Court, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Robert Wardrop of Wardrop & Wardrop P.C.: The odd thing about Wardrop is that he didn't appear to have any dog in this fight. He did not represent any party involved in the removal of hazardous waste from the Boardwalk project site, yet he gratuitously inserted himself into the Toxic Towers dispute to help the developers facilitate their scheme to dump the Boardwalk's hazardous waste offsite. Wardrop, at Fisher's beckoning (see above), three times gave false testimony to the Kent County Circuit Court to help the Boardwalk developers get and maintain control of the only route connecting the project site to a public street. (As it later turned out, Wardrop's law firm had an interest in leasable space at the Boardwalk, and he was also rewarded by Logie with a City contract after he provided his false testimony to the court.)
Todd Dickinson of Fisher & Dickinson P.C.: Dickinson partnered up with Fisher to form Fisher & Dickinson, which picked up the Boardwalk development companies, Pioneer Inc., and Thomas Beckering as clients. Fisher took a behind-the-scenes role after initially presenting Wardrop's false evidence to the Kent County Circuit Court (see above). Dickinson continued to represent Wardrop's evidence as truthful to the court even after receiving documents signed by Wardrop himself showing that his testimony was false -- which in fact the court ultimately relied upon to rule that Wardrop's evidence was indeed false.
Daniel Ophoff of the City Attorney's Office: As previously reported, Ophoff destroyed public records after receiving notice that they could be evidence in a pending federal lawsuit. Ophoff subsequently falsely denied this destruction to the Kent County Circuit Court and the U.S. District Court.
John Ferroli of Dykema Gossett P.L.L.C.: Finally, we have Ferroli, attorney for Fifth Third Bank. The bank, in conjunction with National City Bank, had lent the Boardwalk developers $25 million to complete their project. However, the bank had acted against its apparent interest when, contrary to standard procedure, it did not request that the MDEQ verify the developers' environmental assessments for the project. This helped the developers to conceal the false and misleading statements made in these assessments. Ferroli sought to punish us for filing a complaint against the bank's material assistance to the developers' illegal dumping scheme. To this end he filed a dishonest statement with the Kent County Circuit Court asserting that we had knowingly or recklessly alleged facts about the dumping that were false and by this means fraudulently pursued sanctions to silence us.
Whether or not this is a representative slice of G.R. law, these attorneys lacked the compunction to refrain from making false statements to law enforcement and the courts if that helped their clients escape the consequences of their involvement in the Toxic Towers dumping scandal. Lying as practiced by certain lawyers is often dismissed as "sharp practice" and even admired in some circles for its cleverness. It is, of course, despicable and almost nothing can be done about it, because judges don't want to hear about it and the Attorney Grievance Commission has no will to investigate it.
Nevertheless, what these attorneys have done is an assault upon the integrity of our judicial system. It is obstruction. Even if the authorities will not act, you now know them for who they are.
Next installment: The courts.