Detroit officials seek sanctions against businessman, lawyer in court battle

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Robert Carmack is the central figure in the bribery indictment against Leland. Carmack said he wore a recording device in talks with the councilman. Leland is accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 and free car repairs from Carmack. He denies the accusations.

Clarification: This article has been updated to remove a photograph that identified another one of Robert Carmack’s attorneys, Steve Haney, who is not a target of the litigation seeking sanctions.

The Detroit Building Authority is seeking sanctions and disciplinary action against a businessman embroiled in a legal battle with the city, alleging he and his attorney acted improperly as their case moved through the court system.

Robert Carmack and his lawyer, Andrew Paterson, filed a lawsuit this year amid a property dispute with the city, added the building authority about three months later and “failed to include any cognizable claims,” according to the motion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Last month, a federal judge said he had "very serious concerns" over how the lawsuit was being prosecuted.  Though U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman offered Carmack the chance to dismiss the case with prejudice and then the city could withdraw its request for sanctions, the building authority said in its filing, the businessman moved to dismiss it without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled. The court then approved an order allowing the city to file briefs on possible sanctions before Jan. 11.

The building authority's motion references Carmack’s late November press conference, which he initially had touted as a way to share new, potentially damaging information on Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. The businessman made headlines after airing private investigator footage of the mayor's comings and goings on a billboard truck outside of City Hall.

“As referenced by this court, plaintiff’s perceived attempts to gain a stronger position in this case by utilizing the media should not be tolerated,” the motion read. “Plaintiff’s egregious actions cannot go unaddressed and must be sanctioned.” 

The building authority also alleges Paterson violated a judge's order by seeking subpoenas in a separate property case in Detroit's 36th District Court to gather information as well as stating “a number of misrepresentations … which exceeds the realm of misstatements and touches on falsification” during oral arguments.

In a statement Thursday, Paterson described the motion as “frivolous and lacks legal merit” and said neither he nor Carmack violated court orders. 

"36th District Court Judge Cylenthia LaToye Miller authorized  ...the right to take the depositions of relevant witnesses pertaining to Mr. Carmack's defense that the city of Detroit and Mike Duggan were seeking to evict Mr. Carmack from a property that he has occupied for over 20 years in retaliation for Mr. Carmack speaking out and revealing the possible criminal and unlawful conduct of Mayor Duggan and officials at the Detroit Building Authority," he said.

Last week, Carmack was arraigned on four felony charges connected to the alleged theft of a $1 million property from the city of Detroit. The charges stem from the March 2, 2016, sale of property that also is the subject of a civil lawsuit that the city filed in June alleging the land was "fraudulently sold" by Carmack, who owns a Detroit auto shop on Michigan Avenue.

Carmack also is the central figure in the bribery indictment against Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland.