Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Author Elmore Leonard wins prestigious book award - The Detroit News

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Guest commentary: A Senate hearing today on hate crimes goes beyond Oak ... - Detroit Free Press

How do we create positive change out of a devastating loss? Today, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on hate crimes and domestic hate groups. The event stems from the tragic massacre last month at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc.  What we need to recognize is that the hearing, and the threat of hate violence, affects all of us. As my friend Raman Singh from the Sikh Coalition said, “we need to get out of the ‘Sikhs aren't Muslims’ mindset and focus on something that affects all Americans: hate crimes.”

Growing up in Long Island in the 1970s, I was raised to wear a bindi as most traditional Hindus do.”  When I was a bit older, A young man yelled “dot head” at me while I was walking in the mall, which prompted me to be selective, perhaps scared, about when and where I wear my bindi. My Dharmic brothers from the Sikh community cannot switch so easily between cultures â€" and have been objects of hate crimes that don’t just denigrate, but take lives.

We must use this opportunity to address the hate that still rages in our society and move beyond intolerance. There are stories like this through out our shared American history: Japanese Americans held in internment camps; nooses hung to remind people that we are not that distant from the Civil Rights era; a Chinese American beaten to death with a baseball bat in metro Detroit when the American automotive industry faced its first serious competition from Japanese automakers; a pig’s head used to taunt Arab Americans at a cultural festival; Sikhs murdered in their own house of worship.

This hearing is not just for the Sikh community, but all communities that want to live, work and worship in America without fear. Our civic responsibilities do not end with the Senate hearing.  Rather, this serves as an opportunity for all people to engage with one another, examine the hate and extremism within our own society, and implement solutions to end the history of tragedies like the one in Oak Creek.

Padma Kuppa is an IT professional in the U.S. auto industry. She is a co-founder of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, an executive council member of the Hindu American Foundation, an Advisory Board Member of WISDOM, a metro-Detroit women's interfaith organization, and a columnist for  

Industrial designer hosting sketch battle at Detroit Design Festival - Detroit Free Press

Middlecott Design, a husband-and-wife outfit run by industrial designer Brook Banham, 36, and graphic designer Judith Grubinger Banham, 41, will present a sketch battle at the launch party for their new studio.

The first-time Detroit Design Festival participant has lined up 12 contestants to do battle with marker, watercolor, laptop, or artist's choice in two 1-hour heats, with two winners -- one selected by the audience, and the other by a panel of judges.

"Sketching in particular in my world of product design and automobile design, it's very competitive, " says Brook Banham, who has designed for the likes of Fila and Acme Made. "If somebody has a really good sketch compared to a really crappy sketch next to him, the boss is going to choose the good sketch. That filters down to the school level at university when students are trying to get jobs. Best sketch wins."

Banham is a living, breathing example of the creative outsider who settles in Detroit because of the affordability, only to discover that the city has so much more to offer than just low rent. He grew up in Texas and Europe, graduated from Coventry University in the UK and was living in San Francisco when the recession hit. The next stop for the car enthusiast and his wife was the Motor City, and they haven't looked back.

QUESTION: How did you end up here?

A: The recession hit around 2009. We lost some of our clients, or they stopped spending money for a few months, and we thought: Where could we go to continue our thing? We thought Detroit would be a good place. So we moved here and since I'm a car fanatic, what better place than the Motor City? And on top of that College for Creative Studies is here.

I thought, well, while it's a slow time I'm going to take advantage of it and do a master's course in transportation design, my main love professionally speaking. So I did that for two years, finished that in 2012. ... After living here for 2 1/2years, we were like, "You know, we really like the city." The city offers a lot of possibilities that no other city in the world offers. The low overhead really opens up a lot of freedom for designers to be even more creative, because if you have an office in San Francisco or Boston, even Mumbai or other big cities around the world, you pay astronomical rent and you have massive overhead.

Q: How does dropping that overhead open things up for you?

A: You can't risk so much because you have so much overhead. So you have to play things by the book. But here you can really break free of those restrictions somewhat. ... This is something that Middlecott tries to do and strives to do, to separate ourselves from the rest of the design community.

Q: What does the DDF mean for the city?

A: I think this could really help Detroit get on the map. ... I think cities like San Francisco and Boston and New York and Los Angeles are really strong design centers, and I think Detroit will catch up based on this type of festival. It's really encouraging, and the city fosters all that creative stuff because so many creatives are moving here, artists and designers and musicians.

Q: Is this the first of many sketch battles, or a one-off?

A: It's a little bit of an experiment. We're going to have a main one in January when the auto show is here. I'm hoping that the sketch battle will grow into a yearly thing that we do during the auto show. ... I want to see, like, a clash of the titans eventually. The best two people from Audi, the best person from Fiat, the best person from Chevy, the best person from Chrysler, they all come and battle it out here. It could become like an Olympics of sketching.

The sketch battle starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Middlecott Design, Studio 2100, Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold.

1 dead, 1 critical in shooting on Detroit's west side - Detroit Free Press



One man is dead and another man is in critical condition Tuesday after a shooting on the city's west side.

Neighbors heard shots in the 14500 block of Marlowe and called police about 3:30 a.m., police Sgt. Alan Quinn said.

When police arrived at the home near Fenkell, they found a man in his 40s shot dead and a man in his 20s in critical condition. He was taken to Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit.

Anyone with information is asked to call 313-596-2260 or Crime Stoppers at 800-SPEAKUP (800-773-2587).


No perjury over safety grant, mayor says

Taylor Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand said Tuesday that court transcripts show he did not perjure himself, as a judge had alleged, in an issue related to a federal public safety grant.

Last month, a judge found Lamarand guilty of contempt and ordered him to pay expenses as part of a dispute over the $8.1-million grant to recall laid-off firefighters. Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen Macdonald said Lamarand committed perjury by testifying he would comply with a court order to accept a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant.

Lamarand sent a letter saying he could not comply with the order because the city did not have enough money to pay the non-federal costs associated with the grant, but then accepted the grant under a deal that involved firefighters cashing out their unused sick and vacation time.

Lamarand said that court transcripts show he did not make the statements Macdonald had attributed to him. He said the judge ruled Tuesday that he has to pay $250 in court costs and $650 in legal fees.


Woman faces prison in tax-return scheme

A Detroit woman pleaded guilty in federal court to knowingly preparing tax returns with false information on them, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Tuesday.

Concetta Robinson, 49, faces five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for reporting false business income and First Time Home Buyer Credits on 2008 tax returns under the names of 12 people who didn't earn them, McQuade said.


Fire chief honored with statewide award

Troy Fire Chief Bill Nelson has been named Michigan Fire Chief of the Year for 2012 by the Michigan Fire Chiefs' Association, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

Nelson was cited for his ongoing work on regional and statewide fire service emergency infrastructure, like area mutual aid pacts, regional emergency radio systems and federal grants to buy equipment to be used regionally.

Prior to being appointed chief in Troy in 1994, Nelson was an assistant chief and fire marshal for the city.


Tip leads to home with nearly 100 pot plants

Charges are pending after police in Macomb County found nearly 100 marijuana plants growing in a home in a Chesterfield Township subdivision.

Township police arrested a man in the home in the Pleasant Meadows subdivision at Gratiot and 24 Mile on Thursday, police said Tuesday. They seized the plants and equipment.


U-M education dean to be on MSNBC

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, chairwoman of a council working to develop a teacher evaluation system for Michigan schools, will be interviewed live Sunday on MSNBC at a teacher town hall that is part of NBC's three-day Education Nation Summit.

Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, will discuss the changing landscape of teacher evaluations as part of the two-hour town hall, which airs noon-2 p.m. She chairs the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness, which last month announced 14 school districts statewide that will pilot four teacher evaluation systems during the current school year.



Bomb squad disables IED in vehicle

An improvised explosive device was left Tuesday in an employee's parked vehicle at ALR Trailers in Bingham Township, north of Lansing, the Clinton County Sheriff's Office said.

Authorities said a Michigan State Police bomb squad made the device safe. A suspect is believed to have fled the state.


Lawyer guilty of sneaking drugs to inmate

A Grand Rapids attorney remained jailed Tuesday after being convicted of slipping drugs to an inmate at the Antrim County Jail.

On Friday, a jury found John Waters, 43, guilty of delivering a controlled substance and conspiracy. He could face up to seven years in prison at sentencing.

Antrim County assistant prosecutor Jim Rossiter said Waters gave Suboxone -- a drug used to treat opiate addiction -- to Jenny Ketz, a female inmate he met with in May 2011 who was jailed on drug charges. Ketz testified that Waters gave her the drug, and her sister testified that she gave him drugs for delivery.

Testimony also indicated that Waters gave Ketz heroin while she was in the Kent County Jail.

Detroit City Council: Belle Isle lease deal too vague, no guarantee Michigan ... - Detroit Free Press

A proposal for the state to lease Detroit's Belle Isle from the city in exchange for major improvements to the island ran aground Tuesday when City Council members lashed out at the plan as an incomplete and insulting offer that they wouldn't even begin to consider.

The council called the proposal dead in the water less than a week after Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder stood together in Detroit to promote the agreement as a way to clean up the city's signature park and free up scarce resources Detroit could use elsewhere.

The deal would give Michigan a 30-year lease of Belle Isle with two optional 30-year renewals in exchange for managing the island as a state park and investing millions in upgrades into its neglected facilities.

The state would not pay money directly to the city under the lease.

It's not clear whether the Bing administration would try to override the council's objection to the deal should the council not approve it; the mayor has refused to discuss the possibility.

It's also unclear whether Bing and the city's program management director, William (Kriss) Andrews, who oversees the city's compliance with its financial stability agreement with the state, have that authority because the state's emergency manager law, Public Act 4, used as a basis for the state oversight of Detroit, is suspended pending a Nov. 6 statewide referendum on it.

Council members said Tuesday that the proposed lease deal was too vague and gave no guarantees that the state would follow through on its end of the bargain. Councilman James Tate said it lacked far too many details to be seriously considered, and said he resented the governor's office saying over the weekend that it wouldn't do a thorough analysis of Belle Isle's needs and what the state might be willing to spend without first having the lease deal signed.

"At this moment, with what we have in front of us, I'm an absolute no," Tate said, calling the lease "beyond disrespectful" and a "terrible attempt at shoving it down people's throats."

Almost the entire council has weighed in against the deal, saying they were being made out to be the "bad guy" in the situation for questioning the agreement.

The issue has boiled over at public meetings, including Tuesday's council session. Some residents urged the council to oppose what they viewed as a state takeover of a city jewel. One person called the lease a sale, and alleged a plan was afoot to put a private winery on one part of the island and a gated private community of upscale homes on another.

Neither option is mentioned in the lease agreement, and Bing's spokeswoman Naomi Patton said the allegations are untrue.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the proposal wasn't anything more than a way for the state to offer help to the city, noting that the lease gave the city the right to terminate it if city officials believe the state doesn't follow through on its pledges.

"Our goal is to work in partnership with everyone to make sure Belle Isle is a clean, safe and family-friendly place," Wurfel said Tuesday. "If they don't feel we're living up to our end of the bargain, they can terminate the lease for cause. That's why that provision is in there."

Bing said he remained hopeful for a resolution.

"It's unfortunate the council is reluctant to move forward," Bing said, "but my administration remains open to discussing the lease agreement and to hearing their, hopefully, constructive input and recommendations."

But the differences between the mayor and council appeared to be wide on the topic.

Among the flash points of the lease deal is a first-ever requirement that motorists would have to buy a $10-a-year state parks pass -- good at all Michigan state parks -- to enter Belle Isle.

The city has tried several times in recent decades to require an entrance fee for Belle Isle but always rejected the idea out of concern the cost would deny poor people access to the park.

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson asked the city's Law Department to issue an opinion on whether the proposal is legal. Watson said she didn't believe the city could legally entertain a long-term lease of Belle Isle without the state paying rent.

Under the agreement, Michigan would not pay a monthly fee but instead pledge unspecified improvements to the island, the details of which were not spelled out in a version of the lease given to the council and the news media last week.

Council President Charles Pugh accused Bing and Snyder of rallying support for the deal before giving the council a chance to examine it, to deliberately make council members appear as obstructionists for questioning it.

Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said it would be "a dereliction of duty" for the council to approve the lease agreement with no guarantees that the state would spend money to fix it up.

"It's infuriating," she said.

The council initially was to have discussed the lease deal in a meeting Monday, but it was canceled after state officials said they wouldn't be able to attend.

The council rescheduled the meeting for 1 p.m. next Tuesday, but Pugh said that meeting might be canceled, too, if the state isn't more forthcoming with details this week.

Wurfel said Rodney Stokes, a former director of the state Department of Natural Resources, planned to attend the meeting as Snyder's lead adviser on the Belle Isle project and would answer many of the questions council members raised.

Wurfel said other Snyder administration officials also may attend the meeting, but scheduling was still being worked out.

The city currently spends $2.8 million a year to maintain the park. Improving the park on the state's dime was included in the financial stability agreement city officials approved in April, but it wasn't a binding part of the deal.

Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kwame Kilpatrick has tough battle ahead to get trial moved - Detroit Free Press

With his jury almost seated, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made a last-minute request that rarely gets honored: move the trial somewhere else.

Kilpatrick's lawyer James Thomas asked for a change of venue in the federal public corruption trial Tuesday, saying negative news media coverage -- especially in recent days -- has made it virtually impossible for Kilpatrick to get a fair trial.

Legal experts say it's tough to win that argument.

"Change of venue requests are rarely granted, and there are good reasons why," said Cornell Law School professor Valerie Hans, who has coauthored a book on American juries and verdicts. "Usually, the local community has the biggest stake in the outcome of the trial. I also think that jurors drawn from the local community are likely to have a better appreciation of local norms and the local context."

Hans also noted that U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds has taken steps to make sure jurors aren't tainted by the news media, including making them fill out a lengthy questionnaire and instructing members of the jury pool to avoid any news media contact.

"I think it's an uphill battle to get the venue changed at this point, without new evidence that the jurors who have already passed the first line of questioning have been tainted," Hans said.

Reason for request

Edmunds called the request for a change of venue premature and said she would not hold up jury selection. The final jury -- of 12 jurors and six alternates -- is expected to be seated today.

Edmunds told defense lawyers they could file formal change-of-venue requests, and she would consider them. A hearing on the issue is set for Thursday.

Possible new locations suggested for the trial were Cleveland and Memphis, Tenn., which are demographically similar to Detroit.

The request for a change of venue was triggered by an article in Monday's Free Press that centered on the holdout juror in the recent bid-rigging trial against Kilpatrick's codefendant and contractor friend Bobby Ferguson. The case ended in a mistrial in June after the jury deadlocked.

The Free Press reported that the holdout juror never disclosed her husband's felony conviction involving cocaine, the couple's bankruptcy filing in 2002 or the fact that she ran a day care agency that came under investigation by the State of Michigan. Legal experts said the information would have raised red flags for the prosecution, noting the juror likely wouldn't have been picked -- possibly altering the outcome. Multiple jurors told the Free Press they voted 10-1 to convict Ferguson on seven of eight counts, but were divided on the other two codefendants in the case.

Ferguson's lawyer Gerald Evelyn argued that the article was unfair and sends a message to jurors in the pending case that they'll be scrutinized if they acquit the defendants.

"It's clear that the jurors in this case have to be aware that there are consequences to a not guilty verdict," Evelyn said, adding jurors might think to themselves, " 'If I vote to acquit Bobby Ferguson, they're going to be kicking my door down.' "

Thomas said the article unfairly tainted the jury pool "on the eve of jury selection."

"I am sincerely concerned about my ability to get a fair trial here," Thomas said.

The legal case

Legal experts disagreed, saying they don't believe the pretrial publicity argument will pass legal muster.

"It's such a difficult standard to overcome," said public corruption expert Wes Porter, a former federal prosecutor who has written a book on racketeering and runs the litigation center at San Francisco's Golden Gate University School of Law.

University of Michigan law professor Richard Friedman said juries can be fairly seated in high-profile cases.

"Even in cases that are much more white-hot than this one is at the moment, I think juries can be picked," Friedman said. "My impression is that Kwame's been big news for a long time. He's not on people's consciences as much as he was. And throughout the Eastern District of Michigan -- and it is a pretty big place -- it should not be impossible to get a pool of jurors who can sit fairly on the case."

Despite the hurdles, several high-profile trials have been moved because of pretrial publicity.

Among them were the Rodney King police brutality trial moved to a different location in California and the Timothy McVeigh domestic terrorism trial, which was moved from Oklahoma to Denver because of pretrial publicity.

In 2004, a California judge agreed to move Scott Peterson's murder trial outside of his hometown of Modesto because of pretrial publicity. He was convicted of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

Teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo had his trial moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Chesapeake, Va., which is 200 miles away.

A balancing act

In Kilpatrick's trial, Edmunds said that although "this is an extremely volatile case," there is a delicate balancing act in ensuring the defendants' rights to a fair trial along with the media's right to inform the public.

"Everyone needs to keep in mind that the defendants are entitled to a fair trial, a fair jury, a jury that is not intimidated," Edmunds said. "And the press is entitled to publish on this matter of great public interest."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow said the defense's request for a change of venue is "premature and speculative." He also noted that the jurors' names are anonymous -- unlike those in the Ferguson bid-rigging trial.

First Amendment attorney Herschel Fink, who represents the Free Press, said the defense's claim that the news media is tainting the jury pool has no merits.

"I think it's very self-serving," Fink told Edmunds on Tuesday. "If the concern is that the media coverage may taint the jury -- I haven't heard anything said about Mr. Kilpatrick's one-hour press conference with the National Association of Black Journalists" or his book tours.

Defense attorney Michael Rataj is skeptical that the trial will get moved, but said the defense needs to get its position on the record.

"Is she going to grant the motion? Probably not," he said.

Community coaltion presents bus restoration petitions to Detroit City Council - Detroit Free Press

Dennis Sloan of Detroit said with cuts in bus service, he would have had to walk several hours home after his shift ended at 1 a.m. at a telemarketing firm in Southfield.

Sloan, who said he quit his job because of the problem, and other residents complained Tuesday night to the Detroit City Council about what they say is an inadequate, ineffective transportation system.

Members of the North End Woodward Community Coalition presented petitions signed by more than 1,300 people who want to see the restoration of bus routes and services that were cut this year.

“People are fed up with the deteriorating bus service,” Sloan said at the meeting, held at Wayne County Community College’s Eastern Campus.

Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh said residents’ concerns would be addressed at a meeting of the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee. He said the meeting would involve officials from the Detroit Department of Transportation.

In April, Mayor Dave Bing’s administration proposed cutting DDOT’s subsidy to $43 million in 2012-13 from $55.6 million. A few years ago, the department received more than $83 million a year from the city.

A private company took over management of DDOT this year. Last week, an official for a transportation consulting firm told the Detroit Financial Advisory Board that ridership has increased.

The Rev. Joan Ross, director of the North End Woodward Community Coalition, said the changes enacted this year included cuts to some weekend, evening and nighttime bus service. She said most of the 37 routes were impacted in some way.

Andre Mallett, assistant district superintendant for the Department of Transportation, acknowledged Tuesday that the bus system faces challenges. He noted that service has been beefed up on the busiest routes â€" Dexter, Grand River, Gratiot and Woodward â€" and said plans are to hire more drivers.

“Based on what the city can afford, that’s the service that we're providing, and we are meeting (those) expectations,” Mallett said.

During the council meeting, several residents said they were concerned about how the cuts have impacted students and people trying to get to work.

“They’re losing their jobs because of this,” Ross said, referring to Detroit residents who use the bus system. “People can’t get to school.”

Free Press staff writer Matt Helms contributed to this report.