Judge won’t block legal action on Little Caesars Arena

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal judge has denied the city’s bid to block the voluntary dismissal of a lawsuit against Detroit, the Downtown Development Authority and other entities over $34.5 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to aid the Detroit Pistons’ move to the new Little Caesars Arena.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith’s Friday ruling comes after a lengthy hearing Thursday in which attorneys for the defendants argued the dismissal attempt was just a ploy to “short circuit” the court system and delay a decision over the funding, putting the planned move in jeopardy.

The judge’s ruling clears the way for a separate lawsuit against the Detroit school district attempting to stop taxpayer aid for the new Detroit basketball and hockey arena by activist Robert Davis of Highland Park and Detroit City Clerk candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon.

Davis has said he and Wilcoxon sought to drop the original lawsuit in favor of another targeting the school board, which has the authority to place the matter on the ballot and let voters decide whether the bonds should be used to make changes to the arena to accommodate the Detroit Pistons. The pair contend the tax revenues are intended for public school students and Wayne County parks.

Goldsmith, in his Friday order, wrote the city of Detroit and other entities argued Davis and Wilcoxon “pursued the dismissal, not just to avoid an unfavorable ruling, but also to ‘buy time’ in the courts.”

“Nonetheless, Defendants have not established that Plaintiffs acted in bad faith by dismissing their claims,” the judge wrote.

“Further, Plaintiffs may well have wanted a new lawsuit for their claims against DPS to avoid the delay and risk attendant to seeking to amend their complaint in this action,” Goldsmith added. “On this record, the Court cannot say that Plaintiffs have acted in bad faith.”

Goldsmith in his Friday order noted that he is still considering motion for sanctions filed by attorneys for the city of Detroit. The judge asked the defendants to file a memorandum by July 17 stating whether they intend to pursue that motion or withdraw it.

The head of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. said late Friday that the defendants were not surprised by Goldsmith’s decision.

“We still expect to prevail on the merits of the case — no matter in what case or court they are presented,” DEGC Interim President and CEO Glen W. Long Jr. said in a released statement. “We were also very pleased that the Downtown Development Authority’s request for sanctions will still be heard, and that the judge has set an aggressive schedule to consider it.”

Davis called Friday’s decision “exactly what I expected.”

“Judge Goldsmith is a rule-of-law judge,” he said, adding “now the DPS case can proceed.”

On Thursday, David Fink, an attorney for the city, told Goldsmith that the legal tactic threatened approval of the move that had been expected this coming Tuesday during the National Basketball Association’s Board of Governors quarterly meeting.

But after Goldsmith questioned whether the timetable was flexible for a “major enterprise” like the NBA, Fink confirmed the approval could be pushed back two weeks.