Case against Conyers, Detroit clears hurdle; Judge Roberts sets settlement conference date

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Monica Conyers of pressuring a nonprofit group to fire an employee who wanted to recall her from the Detroit City Council in 2009.

The decision last week by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts means the case will go to trial or the city will pay to settle it. She set a settlement conference for June 10.

Theodis Collins claims his free-speech rights were violated. He said Conyers persuaded Mariners Inn to fire him when he declared a recall campaign against her and went to an elections commission meeting on his lunch break in May 2009. The substance-abuse center gets grants from Detroit.

"There is sufficient evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to decide that Conyers used her office to pressure Mariners Inn to terminate" Collins, the judge said in dismissing some counts in the lawsuit but allowing others to stand against Conyers, the city and the nonprofit group.

Conyers, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., denies the allegations. She resigned from the council in 2009 after pleading guilty to corruption and now is in federal prison.

Mariners Inn said Collins was dismissed because he misused his time at work. But the judge said a jury will sort out conflicting evidence on that point.

In a deposition, chief executive Jim Hartz testified that he relied on other managers and "chose not to speak with (Collins) before firing him to ask him any questions about his activities, including whether they were on company time," Roberts said.

There is no dispute that Hartz wrote a letter to Conyers apologizing for Collins' "inappropriate behavior."

Collins said Conyers approached him at a public meeting three days after he was dismissed and said, "Oh, you're the one I got fired, huh?"

In a deposition, Conyers admitted meeting Collins but said she told him, "I don't even know you."

Published: Wed, May 25, 2011