Detroit's deputy mayor to resign, serve as city's top lawyer

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit City Council on Tuesday confirmed Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett Jr. as the city's top lawyer, despite previous reservations that he couldn't remain impartial.

Mallett was confirmed in an 8-1 vote Tuesday, an hour before the council recessed for the next two weeks. District 2 Councilmember Angela Whitfield-Calloway voted against his confirmation. 

Mallett, who will resign from his current position to serve as the city's new corporation counsel, vowed "I will be present, I will be available and I will be forthright."

Detroit Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett Jr. addresses the Detroit City Council internal operations standing committee on Jan. 19, 2022. IN an 8-1 vote, the council confirmed Mallett as the city's top lawyer on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

The deputy mayor's move to corporation counsel comes after Mayor Mike Duggan withdrew Mallett's name for the post in February, due to councilmember concerns.

Whitfield-Calloway declined to comment on her vote. Earlier this year, she said she didn’t think Mallett could be impartial since he chaired Duggan's first mayoral campaign and said the city should conduct a nationwide search. She said she could not trust Mallett's decisions citing his close relationship with Duggan that spans three decades.

Over the last two months, council members did some of their own outreach by phone and their efforts did not yield a better candidate than Mallett, President Pro Tem James Tate and District 6 Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero said.

Tate told council members while it was not a nationwide search, "calls were made" and none were more qualified than Mallett.

"I'm humbled by the opportunity and looking forward to the challenge," Mallett told The Detroit News Tuesday. "There have been extraordinary lawyers prior to me and it's a tremendous amount of work. Like it or not, member Calloway pointed out concern and I'm not deterred by the necessity to prove myself and know that people will be watching closely."

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.

He served in executive leadership under former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young and in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration. 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. 

He 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. Mallett was a Michigan Supreme Court justice from 1990 to 1999 and the first African American to serve as Michigan's chief justice.

As corporation counsel, Mallett said he will increase diversity and inclusion in the city's law department by regularly including African American attorneys and seeking outside counsel when necessary. He will prioritize blight, hold property owners accountable and tackle "profound issues" surrounding wrongful conviction lawsuits.

For subscribers: Detroit faces onslaught of lawsuits for wrongful convictions causing 'Serious liability issues'

Mallett said he was recently at Nolan Elementary-Middle School, took photos of nearby properties and sent them to the building and safety department for ticketing.

"We all feel the blight in this city. I thought these kids deserve better and I'm going to do better," he said. "You'll know I'm doing my job when property owners say the department is being too aggressive and that's because we have to do more."

On expanding diversity in the law department, Mallett said, "The Black lawyers in this town have always struggled. They gotta be given the chance to do some of this work and by being present at the table, I hope that will mean more opportunities."

The city's deputy mayor position will be vacant once Mallett transitions, likely in one week, officials said. Duggan will then announce a new deputy mayor, which is an appointed position that does not require confirmation by the city council.

Duggan was not immediately available for comment.

"We are fortunate to have one of Michigan’s most respected attorneys in our administration and we could not find anyone more perfect for this position,” he previously said in a statement. “I don’t know of another city in the United States of America that can say its Corporation Counsel is a former Chief Justice of their state’s Supreme Court.”

The mayor noted that with 77 attorneys and 120 employees, the Detroit Law Department is the equivalent of a major law firm and stressed the city needs a corporation counsel not just knowledgeable in municipal law, but with the administrative experience of running a large organization.

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."

Duggan announced in mid-December his intentions to nominate Mallett for the post, replacing Lawrence Garcia who stepped down in December for a job at a private law firm, Miller Canfield. His last day with the city was Dec. 8.

"Council's confirmation of Conrad Mallett is great news for Detroit," Garcia said in a statement to The Detroit News. "The City's Law Department plays a vital role in government, and Justice Mallett's leadership will keep the office strong."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_