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Detroit's Top Lawyer Resigns After 'Ghetto Court' RemarkThe city of Detroit's top lawyer has resigned amid a controversy in which she referred to one of the city's courts as "a ghetto court." Attorney Kathleen Leavey, former head of the Detroit Law Department, said that her comment was taken "way, way" out of context and that her remarks were part of a conversation about the way in which the court is managed. The 23-year city employee adamantly denied allegations from a city judge that her words were racist and insulting to the predominantly black court.
The National Law Journal2009-01-22 12:00:00 AM
The city of Detroit's top lawyer has resigned amid a controversy in which she referred to one of the city's courts as "a ghetto court."
Attorney Kathleen Leavey, former head of the Detroit Law Department, said that her comment was taken "way, way" out of context. The 23-year city employee adamantly denied allegations from a city judge that her words were racist and insulting to the predominantly black court.
"I am not a racist," Leavey said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "Obviously, I'm hurt pretty bad. My reputation is at question."
The controversy stems from a conversation that Leavey held last week with court staff about financial support for the court, and a recent $400,000 legal judgment against the court. According to Leavey, she told an administrator that "people regard this as a ghetto court because of the way they treat people." She explained that she was referring to a poorly managed court.
"Judges don't get on the bench until 11 o'clock. People wait in long lines. Files get lost," Leavey said. "It's just badly managed."
But 36th District Court Chief Judge Marylin Atkins heard a slightly different version. She said that Leavey told her judicial assistant, " 'When you stop acting like a ghetto court, maybe the city will be more inclined to pay your operations.' "
"I thought it was very insulting and racist to the court and the city of Detroit," Atkins said. "It doesn't matter to me what her explanation is. Referring to this court, with that word ... it was insulting."
Atkins also expressed her outrage in a letter, which she delivered to several judges and the mayor's office.
"How dare you!" Atkins said in the letter. "Not only are your words insulting and racist to this court and the entire city, but they are highly unprofessional coming from the highest ranking attorney for the City of Detroit."
Leavey said she resigned on Friday at the request of the mayor's office, which was unavailable for comment. She has since returned to her former job as an attorney for the law department, as allowed under union rules that lets mayoral appointees return to their previous civil servant jobs. Since resigning on Friday, she also has sent a letter to the mayor's office, asking it not to accept her resignation.
"I do not know that any effort to get my job back will be successful," Leavey said. "[Atkins'] comments have made it difficult for me to move forward."
The city's law department, meanwhile, is not new to controversy. Leavey was hired to head the department in September to replace John Johnson, a key figure in the text message scandal that drove former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick from office.