June 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

Ficano balks at testifying in Elder case

Wayne County exec argues civil deposition would taint FBI probe

Wayne Executive Robert Ficanos lawyers push for deposition delay. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano wants to avoid testifying in a lawsuit brought by his onetime top aide, arguing in court papers that doing so would taint the FBI's investigation into the county.

Attorneys for ex-Deputy Executive Azzam Elder plan to ask Wayne Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter August 3rd to compel Ficano to sit for a deposition in the $25 million lawsuit. Elder sued his ex-boss in January, alleging he was forced out of his job because of a media firestorm over a $200,000 severance to ex-economic development chief Turkia Mullin.

The hearing was originally scheduled for Friday morning, but was postponed.

Ficano's attorneys are pushing for a delay, citing the "well-publicized federal investigation" into the severance and four years of deals involving Elder, Mullin and county contractors.

"Wayne County … does not want any of its citizens to have any concerns that the civil litigation somehow improperly influenced the testimony of its employees and former employees potentially because of witnesses knowing others' testimony in advance," wrote Ficano's lawyers.

Ficano isn't the only person Elder wants to question. He has submitted a list of about 40 others to depose, including Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, airport board member, Ficano confidant Charlie J. Williams, Michael Grundy, a former top county aide facing multiple federal charges related to shakedown allegations, and Ficano's girlfriend Jumana Judeh,.

Elder attorney Thomas Warnicke wouldn't comment on the list. But he said he's been trying for months to depose Ficano.

"The judge previously ruled on the issue and said that discovery and depositions can proceed," Warnicke said. "I am very disappointed that they are going back to the judge on the same issue."

Jeffrey Collins, who succeeded Elder as deputy executive, said there's "no stonewalling" from the county. "The plaintiffs have just recently asked for dates in terms of depositions," he said.

It's common to delay depositions in civil cases until a criminal case is completed, he said. If the judge doesn't agree, Collins said they will argue the questioning should be delayed until Baxter rules on Ficano's motion to dismiss the case. Collins said it's "unfair for the county to expend resources" on depositions if the case is going to be thrown out.

Elder was suspended, then quit amid the public outcry over the handling of the severance. Elder's suit alleges Ficano orchestrated a cover-up of that deal and 15 other planned severances to top aides, including Elder.

Emails have since emerged that appear to show Elder and Mullin wrote letters justifying her payment.

cmacdonald@detnews.com

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