Detroit attorney blasts city Law Department in resignation letter

Detroit Deputy Corporation Counsel Chuck Raimi ended his decade-long career with the city in  a letter describing profanity-laced shouting matches with his boss and personnel decisions that may have undermined a key legal battle against a concrete crushing operation. 

Raimi’s Jan. 23 letter, which includes a five-page narrative of events that pushed him to resign followed by 25 pages of supporting documents numbered like legal exhibits, was first reported by the Detroit Free Press and provided to BridgeDetroit by the city on Thursday. Raimi wrote that he felt it critical to disclose issues in the Law Department and intends to spur change. 

Much of Raimi’s letter takes aim at Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett, who serves as the city’s top attorney, and Chief of Staff James Harrison. Raimi argues Harrison is vastly unqualified to hold a high-level position in the Law Department and was brought on board by Mallett to “have a loyal ‘yes man’ as chief of staff.”

“To my knowledge there was no budgeted position,” Raimi wrote. “I am unaware of any posting or interviews or any attempt to hire the most qualified person … In an effort to be discreet, I will only say I was not favorably impressed and saw nothing to support Conrad’s decision to bring in (Harrison) as chief of staff.” 

A compensation schedule for the 2023-24 fiscal year lists a chief of staff position in the Law Department with a salary range of $135,434 and $203,152. 

Mallett previously served as deputy mayor. He was nominated to corporation counsel by Mayor Mike Duggan for a term ending in 2026 and approved by an 8-1 vote of the City Council in 2022. 

“I have the highest regard for Chuck Raimi, and I have the highest regard for Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett,” Duggan said in a statement. “I tried a number of times to get the two of them to sit down and settle their differences because I believed the city would be better off with both their talents. I’ve been really disappointed that I wasn’t able to succeed. I wish Chuck nothing but success in his next venture.” 

A city spokesman said the administration will not comment further on personnel matters. Mallett and Harrison did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. 

Raimi wrote that he supported Mallett’s appointment and expected “we would be true partners.” But within a year, Raimi found himself isolated from important work within the Law Department. 

Raimi said Mallett’s reorganization of the Law Department in late 2022 created a new blight division with Harrison at the helm. The shift came amid an influx of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, Raimi said. 

Raimi said the reorganization prevented him from advising the city during a failed attempt to revoke land use rights from a concrete crushing operation accused of blanketing a majority Black neighborhood in dust. Despite nearly 300 blight tickets issued to the operation since 2022, Harrison lost the case to revoke the company’s permit because the court said he didn’t have enough evidence.

Raimi also detailed alleged mistakes in another lawsuit against the city filed by Grosse Pointe Moving & Storage. The business, located near Stellantis’ auto plant, sued Detroit after the city failed to provide public records about truck traffic flowing into east side neighborhoods. 

Raimi argued the city failed to provide the documents on time, then failed to comply with a judge’s order, resulting in an injunction that blocked Stellantis from a road reconstruction project servicing its East Jefferson facility.

“These cases should be easy – simply produce the requested documents,” Raimi wrote in his letter. 

Raimi also raised concerns about another blight lawsuit that was “badly mishandled” by outside counsel. The letter does not provide much detail, but Raimi wrote that “spending money on outside counsel for blight is inexplicable.” 

The letter also details several heated verbal clashes with Mallett, who Raimi described as “vicious” and “cowardly.” Raimi wrote that Mallett made significant decisions without consulting Raimi, and Harrison became “the de facto deputy.” 

Harrison’s elevation to a top role in the Law Department frustrated Raimi, who included Harrison’s resume on his resignation letter. Raimi said he believes attorneys in the blight division left because they did not want to work for Harrison. 

Raimi’s letter also includes legal documents from when Harrison was general counsel to Hartford Head Start, a Detroit nonprofit. A union representing employees at the nonprofit filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit after the agency cut wages by 20%. A legal document Raimi provided shows Harrison argued the nonprofit didn’t have to bargain with the union. 

Mallett served as the first Black chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He was a legal assistant to late-Congressman John Conyers Jr., a legal advisor to former Gov. James Blanchard and assistant to former-Mayor Coleman Young. 

Raimi had his own controversy early last year when some city council members urged Duggan to punish Raimi for authorizing a contract in violation of the City Charter. 

Raimi ended his letter saying he continues to believe in Duggan and the city’s mission but “felt it critical to let you all know what has been going on in the Law Department with the hope this message will result in changes.”

BridgeDetroit reporter Jena Brooker contributed

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