Judge rejects Fouts' bid to avoid deposition in bias suit
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts will have to submit to a deposition in a racial bias suit against the city and his testimony will not be sealed, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg scheduled the deposition for Aug. 23 but ruled it will not be videotaped. He ordered that Fouts' testimony be recorded in a written transcript.
Fouts will be deposed as part of a federal lawsuit filed by a former Warren police officer who has accused the city of discrimination against her.
DeSheila Howlett, who is African-American, alleges in her lawsuit that she suffered racial and gender discrimination and harassment while employed in Warren's police department between 2000 and 2016 because the city did not require diversity training of her fellow officers.
Howlett says nothing was done about her concerns when she complained, according to her lawsuit. Howlett says she believes Fouts, who selects the city's police chief and diversity director, has not made diversity training a priority.
Attorneys representing Fouts and the city had sought to avoid the mayor being deposed but requested that if he had to testify, that any record be sealed.
Raechel Badalementi, who is representing Warren in the lawsuit, told Berg that Fouts is concerned that a videotaped or audiotaped deposition would be used by Howlett's attorney, the media and the mayor's political opponents as he runs for re-election next year.
"This is something that Mayor Fouts is individually and personally opposed to," Badalementi said in court Monday. "We ask that the deposition be sealed and the portions you want unsealed we can talk about...."
But attorney Leonard Mungo, who is representing Howlett, disagreed.
"Mayor Fouts is a public official," Mungo said Monday. "The issue is about governance. Nothing pertains to anything personal about Mayor Fouts. People have a right to know."
Mungo said to seal the deposition would be to "shortchange" the public and the media of their constitutional right to know what the mayor said in his testimony.
Berg said the First Amendment should be protected in this case "as in any other case."
The judge said he will not order the transcript sealed.
"We don't have secret proceedings," said Berg, adding that lawyers should only file the parts of the transcripts that are relevant to what they will argue in court, since the transcripts will be made public.
In June, Berg granted Mungo's request to have Fouts questioned under oath. He also denied the city's efforts to quash subpoenas and depositions before trial.
In an April filing, Howlett said she wanted Fouts to be deposed because the mayor is "instrumental in developing and implementing policy" that has produced a culture of discrimination in Warren.
But Badalamenti said Monday that Fouts "is not a party" to the lawsuit and "has no real interest (as a defendant in this case."
Fouts was accused of making crude comments about African-Americans and older women in recordings released last year. He has denied that his voice is the one on the recordings.
Fouts addressed the controversy last year during a Martin Luther King Jr. event at Warren City Hall, saying "All this is designed to do is distract, to divide and disrupt."