Kids in the Hall

By Neal McNamara

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

Last Wednesday in the chambers of 54-A District Judge Amy Krause, two lawyers, with all the excitement of a plate of cold asparagus, explained to the judge how they would proceed in the case of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 665 v. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, the City Administrative Account, et. al.

Last year’s interestingly timed suit against Bernero — one week before the election — by one of his opponent’s supporters over hizzoner’s so-called 527 political fund and its allegedly fraudulent solicitation of donations still has to wend its way through the courts.

Wednesday’s preliminary hearing in front of Krause was basically for Bernero’s lawyer, Michael Hodge of Miller Canfield, to say that he would file a motion before March 19 in an attempt to dismiss the IBEW’s suit.

The IBEW’s suit alleges that Bernero defrauded the union of $5,000 when the mayor sent out a letter in 2006 asking for donations to the “Lansing Booster Club,” which was actually the 527, called the City Administrative Account. Bernero has said, and the 527’s filings with the IRS show, that he uses the account for activities incidental to the office of the mayor — like buying food for his staff, traveling around the country, souvenir cufflinks for his inauguration. The IBEW, however, claims that Bernero never made good on a promise in the Lansing Booster Club letter to let the union “have a seat at the table,” so to speak, and thus breached his contract with the union, which was sealed with a $5,000 donation.

Hodge said that the first point he will make in his motion to dismiss is that there was never a contract in the first place. Hodge compared it to someone asking for a campaign contribution back after the candidate he or she donated to raised taxes when candidate said he would not. Hodge also says that the union cannot “pierce the corporate veil,” meaning it cannot sue Bernero for an activity of the 527, which is a nonprofit corporation.

IBEW attorney Tom Byerley disagrees. The union will respond to Hodge’s motion but made it clear that, at this point, the case is being argued on its legal footing, not its facts. Byerley said that the IBEW did not get the level of access as advertised for the $5,000 contribution. Hodge said the union did get access, but maybe not to its liking.

The deadline for Hodge’s motion is March 19, but could come before that, he said.