Detroit wants judge to step down from pot shops case
Detroit — City lawyers are asking a Wayne County circuit judge who recently paid Detroit a $175,000 settlement over blight violations to step down from a case against the city that she’s presiding over.
In a motion filed Wednesday, the city says it’s seeking to disqualify Judge Daphne Means Curtis over a potential conflict of interest since she had been locked in prolonged litigation with Detroit over the crumbling Wurlitzer Building.
Curtis, along with her husband, Paul Curtis, owned the building on Broadway from 2008 to 2011 and were issued about $400,000 in violations for crumbling bricks and blight. Ultimately, the pair paid a settlement to Detroit, Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell said.
The judge, meanwhile, on Friday granted a temporary restraining order on behalf of 10 medical marijuana dispensaries challenging a new city law that regulates where they can locate.
Hollowell, during a Tuesday briefing to City Council on Detroit’s new medical marijuana regulations, noted the city intended to ask Curtis to recuse herself.
“I think it’s important for the court to address that issue and not sweep it under the rug,” Hollowell said.
The city is asking Curtis to address the request during an April 13 court hearing. The judge last month sent a letter to Detroit’s Law Department noting she’s disqualifying herself from cases being handled by the attorney involved in her prior litigation.
That lawyer, James Noseda, supervises Detroit’s commercial litigation and is handling the marijuana case.
A clerk with Curtis’ court said Wednesday no comment would be made in advance of the hearing.
The marijuana lawsuit was filed last week and contends the ordinance “unlawfully” prevents the shop operators, who are pre-existing primary caregivers licensed by the state, from providing medical marijuana to qualifying patients with “debilitating medical conditions.”
The law went into effect on March 1 after the City Council approved a pair of controversial ordinances that regulate where and how so-called pot shops can operate in Detroit. On the same day, an application went live on the city’s website for shops seeking to run legally under the city’s rules.
The filing contends the shops — all located within areas considered to be drug-free zones — were turned down outright by the city after submitting applications without means to appeal.
Hollowell has maintained the city’s adopted regulations are lawful and will allow for approximately 50 Medical Marihuana Caregiver Centers in various locations in Detroit.
In February, the city put the 200-plus shops that had been operating in Detroit without restriction on notice that they would have to meet the newly adopted requirements or face closure.
About 195 applications overall have been submitted. Of those, 74 are seeking to operate in drug-free zones, Hollowell said.
Robin Schneider, a representative with the nonprofit National Patients Rights Association, said the group is concerned applications from some centers were improperly turned down by the city because they are located near long-closed former schools or child care buildings.
The association, she said, is aware of several centers that are facing that situation and argues they should be able to demonstrate that to the city and appeal to the zoning board.
“We are not advocating for medical marijuana centers to be located next to schools and day care centers,” said Schneider, who is not involved in the lawsuit. “We are only concerned for the caregiver centers that are being told they are in drug-free zones due to a vacant building that at one time was a drug-free use.”
Hollowell countered the city’s drug-free zone data is current. The city’s Buildings Safety Engineering and Environmental Department is conducting inspections to ensure the schools remain within the zones are operating. Churches are being verified by the city assessor, he added.
As it relates to the 10 shops challenging the zoning law, Hollowell said he is “very confident” they are in violation. Building officials are still doing inspections on other applicants, he added.