Judge tosses case against attorney over Wayne Co. jail

The Detroit News

Detroit — A judge on Friday dismissed criminal charges against a Wayne County attorney accused of misleading elected officials about cost overruns at a since-abandoned jail.

Circuit Judge Vonda Evans threw out the indictment against Steve Collins, who was charged with misconduct of office felonies after an investigation by a one-man grand jury last year.

Along with the county’s former chief financial officer, Carla Sledge, Collins was charged under an obscure law that allows prosecutors to charge public officials with violating common law — those established before colonists came to the United States.

Evans ruled that the charge didn’t apply because Collins was a county employee rather than public official.

“Collins isn’t elected or appointed,” said James Thomas, Collins’ attorney. “He doesn’t have discretionary duties. He can’t enter into contracts.

“What’s next ... charging people who make photocopies?”

Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy, declined comment, citing a gag order that Evans imposed on the case last year.

Charges are still pending against Sledge, who faces two felony charges of misconduct of office and two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty. The felonies are punishable by five years in prison and $10,000 fines, while the misdemeanors carry punishments of one year in jail and $1,000 fines.

At the time of the charges, Collins was a chief assistant corporation counsel and served as attorney for the county’s building authority that oversaw construction of the jail at Gratiot and Madison. The project remains half-finished; work stopped on it in June 2013 when cost estimates soared to $391 million from $300 million.

Prosecutors alleged that Collins and Sledge misled the building authority and county commission about the true costs of the project.

The criminal case has been unusual and controversial from the start. One-man grand juries are rare. So was the charge — misconduct in office is something of a catch-all accusation of wrongdoing and was used to prosecute defendants as diverse as assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.