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Judge rejects Robert Davis' bid to be hired by union

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A federal judge Thursday turned down a motion from convicted community activist Robert Davis that would have allowed him to apply and accept a union position.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow cited Davis' refusal to agree to an interview with the Department of Labor as part of the process of lifting a ban on his ability to apply for the position with a public labor union; Davis did not name the union or the amount he would be paid.

Robert Davis

According to federal court records, Davis is working in a job for a state lawmaker earning $40,000 a year while he pays $50 a month restitution to the Highland Park School District for a $200,000 embezzlement conviction, for which he served time in prison.

MORE: Inside the rickety redemption of Robert Davis

Davis was fired from Detroit’s largest municipal union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, after he pleaded guilty in September 2014. He was a member of the Highland Park school board in 2007-10.

Davis has filed dozens of lawsuits against public officials in recent years as a self-styled corruption fighter despite minimal legal training.

He said he has been "walking a very straight, narrow line" since he was released from prison.

"I have not gotten into any trouble," said Davis. "I've never been more cautious in my life."

Davis is banned until 2029 from working for a labor union. But he could get an exemption from the ban through a federal judge under certain conditions, said the federal prosecutor who is fighting Davis' request.

"Mr. Davis has not indicated he is clearly rehabilitated," the prosecutor, Zak Toomey, said during the court hearing held on Zoom.

According to prosecutors, Davis has paid less than $3,000 since leaving prison in 2016.

Davis said he would be able to pay more toward his restitution if he is able to get a better-paying job.

Toomey countered that Davis could pay more if he chose to do so, saying that he "paid $10 a month for more than year."

"Mr. Davis refuses to pay more," he said.

Davis said he has learned his lesson and is not the same man who committed the "selfish acts" when he stole from the Highland Park School District.

Davis said he has the backing of a former Michigan Supreme Court chief justice, Robert Young, who is willing to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf.

Tarnow said he is "very concerned about the timing of all this" but did not elaborate.

Tarnow ended Davis' supervision of release but did say he wants supervision over Davis' restitution payments.

"Given the severity of what you did, it's a large amount of money," said Tarnow, who told Davis to seek a position with a privately-held company. "You've got to comply with the rules (of release). If you can't convince the Labor Department, you're going to have a tough time of convincing me to shorten the bar."