Detroit — The chief judge of the 3rd Circuit Court had harsh words Monday for Wayne County executive candidate Phil Cavanagh and his attorney as he dismissed a lawsuit challenging the residency of Warren Evans, one of his opponents.
“I’m very unhappy with what has happened here. I’m thinking ‘what are you doing?’” Judge Robert Colombo Jr. said to Cavanagh’s attorney, Andrew Patterson. “Why shouldn’t I sanction you for filing a frivolous lawsuit?”
Colombo dismissed Friday a similar suit challenging the residency of Evans, a former top police chief and ex-Wayne County sheriff. The lawsuits claimed Evans hadn’t lived in the county for 30 days before the April 22 deadline to file.
Colombo said he wouldn’t issue sanctions but told Cavanagh he needed to “be careful” and that any candidate for the county executive seat needs to make good decisions and not waste people’s time and money.
Even though they risk sanctions, Cavanagh and Patterson said outside the courtroom they would file an appeal Monday afternoon.
“We think the judge was wrong on the law,” said Cavanagh, a state representative from Redford Township said. “The bottom line is we’re correct on the law and we’re trying to preserve an appealable issue.
“If we don't appeal, the precedent would be set that the Wayne County executive would be the only position in the state that doesn't have a residency requirement.”
Cavanagh contends Evans listed his 20-acre horse ranch in Washtenaw County as his primary residence from at least January 2012 until the day before the April 22nd filing deadline.
Richard Kaufman, Evans' campaign manager, said Evans moved from Salem Township into Grosse Pointe Park in January and moved into a Detroit apartment April 1.
“They waste resources because they’re afraid of democracy and the public has viewed we have the proven leader in Warren Evans.”
Evans’ attorney, John Pirich, called an appeal “absurd and ridiculous” and said the campaign will seek court sanctions and fees for a frivolous appeal if the Cavanagh camp does appeal the decision.
“It’s just a waste of time and money,” he said. “We called it a stunt, and that’s what it is.”
Cavanagh may have adopted a go-for-broke strategy with a week to go in the election, said Bill Ballenger, an associate editor with Inside Michigan Politics.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Ballenger said. “But you’ve got to believe Cavanagh is swimming upstream in this campaign. I don’t know if you’d call it a Hail Mary or desperation, but it’s probably close to it.”
Such a strategy could ultimately fail — even if he is successful in getting votes for Evans not to count, Ballenger said.
“Very often the public doesn’t like things like this happening,” he said.
About 48,000 absentee ballots already have been cast, Pirich said. The suit looks to throw those out and any other votes Aug. 5 for Evans.
Evans is one of the frontrunners in a crowded Democratic field. Other candidates include incumbent Robert Ficano, Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara of Belleville; and six other Democratic candidates.