Warren Mayor Fouts wins fight to shield alleged racist recordings from jury in court case
Detroit — A federal judge Wednesday refused to let jurors hear audio recordings that purportedly capture the mayor of Michigan’s third-largest city making racist, sexist and ageist comments and other derogatory remarks.
The secretly recorded comments are inadmissible in a civil lawsuit filed by former Warren Diversity Coordinator Gregory Murray because the audio cannot be authenticated, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain wrote in a Wednesday order. Murray also cannot pinpoint when the recordings were made and there is a danger the recordings would be prejudicial, the judge wrote.
The order is the latest setback in attempts to shed light on the recordings and reveal whether Fouts admitted under oath during a deposition that he made racist comments disparaging various groups of people. In the past several years, Fouts has been accused of making disparaging comments about people with disabilities, African-Americans and women on audio recordings, including several published by the website Motor City Muckraker, and described former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick with a racial slur.
In a statement, city lawyer Raechel Badalamenti said the recordings were manipulated and manufactured and that Fouts, under oath, had denied making the statements.
"This ruling is expected to significantly reduce taxpayer expense from frivolous lawsuits," she said. “The court system made clear today that cases need to be decided on facts and merit, not how much one might be able to besmirch or offend our public servants."
"Here, the audio recordings that plaintiff seeks to introduce into evidence are not the original audio recordings," the judge wrote. "Plaintiff has not come forward with any witness with personal knowledge of when these recordings were made, who made them, and whether they have been altered."
Fouts has said it wasn't his voice on those recordings. He was questioned about the statements under oath in a deposition but last year the judge sealed the mayor's answers and ordered any recordings and transcripts destroyed once the case is completed.
"Additionally, to the extent any of the recordings may have some probative value, the danger of unfair prejudice outweighs the scintilla of probative value the audio recordings will provide to the jury," the judge wrote. "Plaintiff believes the audio recordings were made more than 10 years ago, well before plaintiff’s claims arose. The recordings are not temporarily related to plaintiff’s claims. For all of these reasons, the audio recordings will be excluded from evidence at trial."
"We are very confident in our case and have a wealth of evidence outside of the recordings supporting our case against the Mayor," Murray's lawyer Jonathan Marko wrote in an email to The Detroit News. "We are looking forward to trying our case in Court in front of a jury."
Murray filed the federal lawsuit against the city, Fouts and the city's police department in October 2019, alleging he was wrongfully terminated after working to address civil rights violations. He also claims he worked in a "racially hostile and toxic work environment.”
A settlement conference is scheduled for Friday in federal court.