Detroit councilwoman pushes back on Duggan top attorney pick, urges national search

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — A newly elected Detroit City Council member is pushing back on Mayor Mike Duggan's request to appoint his deputy mayor as the city's next top lawyer and calling instead for a nationwide search to fill the role.

In a resolution submitted Wednesday to the council's Internal Operations and Standing Committee, Angela Whitfield-Calloway argues she doesn't trust Duggan's selection of Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett Jr., who also chaired Duggan's first mayoral campaign, claiming he couldn't be impartial as the city's corporation counsel.

Duggan announced in mid-December his intentions to nominate Mallett as Detroit's corporation counsel, replacing Lawrence Garcia who stepped down last month for a job at a private law firm.

Detroit Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett Jr. addresses the city council internal operations standing committee Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

Garcia's departure came after he'd been the subject of a complaint that city Inspector General Ellen Ha filed with the state's Attorney Grievance Commission that claimed Garcia "improperly intervened in our investigations."

Whitfield-Calloway, who represents District 2, said Wednesday she would not support Mallett's nomination citing his close relationship with Duggan that span three decades.

"I do not believe that you can be impartial or neutral in your decision-making with regard to the legislative branch and the executive branch," Whitfield-Calloway told Mallett Wednesday during an Internal Operations and Standing Committee discussion on his proposed appointment. "To me, it's very problematic."

In response, Mallett likened Duggan's appointment to the selection a president of the United States would make for an attorney general, which, he said, is always "someone with whom they are familiar, someone that they are philosophically aligned with and someone they know they can trust."

"My candidacy is, in fact, worthy of support precisely because of the quality of the public service that I have delivered in the past," he said. "There is no doubt that when I served (former Detroit mayor) Coleman Young, when I served John Conyers, Jim Blanchard, I was loyal, diligent to the people of the state of Michigan and the people of Detroit."

If confirmed by the council, Mallett would resign from his current position. Deputy Corporation Counsel Chuck Raimi is serving as interim corporation counsel until the council confirms a new pick. 

Whitfield-Calloway and newly seated District 4 Councilwoman Latisha Johnson and at-large Councilwoman Mary Waters, who also sit on the committee, voted 2-1 to send Mallett's proposed appointment, without a recommendation, to the full council for a vote on Tuesday. The committee also voted in support of having the full council vote on Whitfield-Calloway's resolution for the city to conduct a national search.

Johnson voted in support of moving Mallett's appointment forward.

Mallett, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, was appointed as the city's deputy mayor in May 2020 to aid in Detroit's response to COVID-19 and establish the Community Health Corps, which connects low-income Detroiters with support services and assistance programs.

On Wednesday, he touted his history with the city, education at Wayne State University and UCLA and his work under the late Congressman John Conyers. 

Mallett said despite newspapers from his hometown doubting his past appointment to the Michigan Supreme Court at the age of 37, he said his experiences "do uniquely qualify me for this position."

Mallett, who served in executive leadership under Young and in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration, ran Duggan's first campaign for mayor. Mallett began his career as a summer intern in the city’s Law Department, reporting to former U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor. 

"The collection of experiences, the entirety of my service, the intimate familiarity with the ins and outs of how the city functions, but also the issues that confront the average citizen in the city of Detroit have set me up quite appropriately for this opportunity," Mallett said of corporation counsel.

Mallett formerly served as president of Detroit Medical Center's Sinai-Grace Hospital from 2003 to 2011 and was named interim CEO of DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in March 2017. He was a Michigan Supreme Court justice from 1990 to 1999 and the first African American to serve as Michigan's chief justice.

"Detroit would be the first city to have a former state supreme court justice serving as its corporation counsel. I can't imagine that a national search would yield a more qualified candidate than Conrad Mallet Jr.," Duggan spokesman John Roach said Wednesday. 

In December, Duggan called Mallett "one of Michigan's most respected attorneys."

In reference to Garcia's conflicts with the city's inspector general, Mallett said he hopes to start with a clean slate and rebuild broken relationships with other city departments.

"If there is tension between the agencies and law department, I am very confident we can work it out," he told the committee.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_