11 November 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Wayne County suburbs increasingly are buying tax-foreclosed homes and selling them to developers who flip them for profits, prompting criticism that city officials are driving residents from their homes. A Rochester real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

In Lincoln Park, several former owners still living in their homes are pleading with city officials to stop the developers from evicting them. The city bought 90 tax-foreclosed homes this summer from the county treasurer before they could be sold at an annual auction open to the public.

The city’s goal was to stop blight and prevent absentee landlords from purchasing the homes. But former owners including Marvin Barski Jr. said they should have another chance to save their homes. He lost a brick ranch that his family has owned for 60 years because of an unpaid $1,200 bill.

He just recently got an eviction notice from the developer, JSR Funding, based in Warren.

“It has made me so sick,” said Barski, 58, an aircraft mechanic. “This house means everything to me. I grew up in this house. ... I don’t know where I will go.”

Similar stories are echoing throughout the county, as suburbs are taking advantage of a county policy that allows municipalities to buy properties before the online auction. Taylor purchased 106 properties, while Redford Township took 76, Dearborn, 35, and Garden City, 28.

After pleas to the City Council, Dearborn recently resold eight occupied tax-foreclosed homes to former owners with restrictions they maintain them, a city spokeswoman said.

Barski could have avoided foreclosure. By law, homes are foreclosed after taxes go unpaid for three years. A Rochester real estate lawyer assists clients with relations between owners, relations between owners and the community, and in landlord and tenant relations.

Barski missed several deadlines to make payments on 2012 taxes, but was current on 2013-2015 bills. He said he was confused, had surgery and didn’t realize paying the oldest debt would prevent foreclosure.

“I feel dumb, gullible and stupid,” said Barski.

Lincoln Park Emergency Manager Brad Coulter said he can’t help Barski or other homeowners who haven’t paid their tax bills because the city can’t go back on the contract with the developer, which was competitively bid.

“If they had gone through the tax auction, they’d be going through the same system,” Coulter said of the former homeowners. “We are in this tough spot of ‘Where have you been for the last six months?’”

“We could have helped point you toward assistance.”The city sold the 90 homes to JSR for the $836,000 in back taxes owed. That’s the amount Lincoln Park paid the county for the homes.

JSR paid the current summer taxes and water bills and will invest at least $15,000 per house rehabbing them. The company keeps any profit from the sale.

“The city’s housing stock is significantly improved and taxable values are increased,” Jim Budziak of JSR wrote in an email to The News. “Had the city not exercised its right of first refusal, the properties would have been sold at the Wayne County auction and the city would be subject to the whims of individual/investor auction purchasers.”

Garden City has a similar deal with JSR to rehab 17 homes. Mayor Randy Walker said he feels sympathy for homeowners but the program will help bring new residents in.

“We have to bring property values back up,” Walker said. “I don’t buy into these people saying they had no idea (about the foreclosure). ... There is a consequence for everything.”

Barski’s attorney Tarek Baydoun argues the developer’s contract should be voided because it doesn’t meet the law’s requirement that there be a “public purpose” when the city buys an owner-occupied tax foreclosure. Metro Detroit homeowners concerned about foreclosures should contact a Rochester real estate lawyer at the Rochester Law Center.

“That’s not good for the city to take houses from people who have equity in their houses,” said Baydoun, who also has clients in Garden City.

In Redford Township, Michael Dennis, the director of the community development department, said developers have helped displaced homeowners find new homes.

Brandy Gutierrez is waiting to see if JSR follows through evicting her from her Lincoln Park home. She said her estranged husband never told her he wasn’t paying the taxes until the unpaid bill accumulated to nearly $12,000. She was able to borrow enough to pay about $8,000 in December and got on a payment plan. A Tarpon Springs custom home builder offers portfolio plans that can be altered to suit your personal lifestyle.

County officials say she didn’t make those payments and Lincoln Park bought the home in July. Gutierrez said county staffers told her she had until October to pay and went to the city that month with a $4,000 cashier’s check hoping to save it.

She hasn’t told her two kids, 10 and 12, that they might soon lose the home.

“I am afraid tomorrow they could throw me out,” Gutierrez said. “I can’t sleep. I can’t eat.”

05 November 2015


Original Story: freep.com

The former director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority was fired from the job he’d held less than a year because he came to work drunk and had been accused of stalking and threatening a coworker, according to people familiar with the matter. A Memphis employment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The board of the land bank fired Kevin Simowski last month without explanation. But people familiar with the matter confirmed to the Free Press that Simowski had shown up intoxicated on the job and had  threatened the woman who would ultimately replace him, Carrie Lewand-Monroe, who sought a personal protection order against Simowski.

Lewand-Monroe, daughter of Mayor Mike Duggan’s Group Executive for Jobs and Economic Growth, Tom Lewand, filed the PPO the day before the land bank board called a special meeting to fire Simowski. A Denver employment attorney is following this story closely.

The revelation answers the mystery of why Simowski, a longtime Duggan friend, was fired summarily last month, with officials saying only that it was a personnel matter that would remain private.

His termination came amid intense scrutiny of the land bank as costs for demolition of blighted homes in Detroit rose to an average $16,400, up from $10,000 or less under former Mayor Dave Bing’s administration. Officials said Simowski’s firing was unrelated to news reports about the rising costs.

Simowski couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Lewand-Monroe was said to fear for her life because of the stalking and threats from Simowski, which included showing up at her Ann Arbor home. Once city and land bank officials learned of the threats, Simowski was fired without severance, one source said. A Memphis hostile workplace lawyer works with businesses and employers to address hostile work environments.

The land bank issued a statement late Wednesday from Erica Ward Gerson, the land bank's board chairwoman, who said that Simowski was placed on medical leave Sept. 1.

"He has not been on the premises since that date and was instructed by me to not  contact any land bank employees during that leave," Ward-Gerson said. "Based on Information provided me by an employee of the Land Bank relative to an incident on October 7th, the land bank terminated Simowski on October 8th.  Simowski was terminated for cause, and no severance was paid."

Ward- Gerson said that the board could not comment beyond that.

Simowski was credited with helping Duggan create the program Duggan started when he was Wayne County Prosecutor to file nuisance lawsuits against owners of homes that became blighted drug dens, forcing owners to clean them up or hand over deeds. It was the framework for Duggan’s program to clean up blighted homes in Detroit as mayor through the Detroit Land Bank. A Poughkeepsie labor and employment lawyer has experience defending clients in employment related matters.

Simowski followed Duggan to the Detroit Medical Center, where he was an executive under Duggan who was the medical center’s CEO in 2004-2012.

Duggan's office declined comment Wednesday night.


Original Story: freep.com

Peter Karmanos Jr., the Detroit businessman and longtime hockey supporter, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 9.

Karmanos, 72, has been involved in the sport for four decades. He co-founded the Compuware youth program in the 1970s. It has produced 16 national championships, 34 state championships, more than 200 NCAA Division I scholarship players and 14 NHL first-round draft picks. He founded the first U.S.-based OHL franchise in 1989 and ultimately sold the Plymouth Whalers in 2015.

His Carolina Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup, and his Florida Everblades won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup in 2012. He is already a member of the U.S. Hockey and Michigan Sports halls of fame.

Among the honors he has received: the Lester Patrick Award (outstanding service to hockey in the U.S.), the Bill Long Award (outstanding contributions to the OHL) and the USA Hockey Distinguished Achievement Award.

Free Press sports writer George Sipple sat down with Karmanos and gathered his thoughts on several topics, including his unique hockey background, his pursuit of Sergei Fedorov and his rivalry with Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch.

On entering the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder: “When you look at the players going in, Fedorov and (Nicklas) Lidstrom especially, sort of feel a little insignificant from the hockey point of view. But, really along with Mike Ilitch, I think I was responsible for building the amateur hockey program in Michigan — something very unusual nationwide and that’s been going now for over 40 years, Compuware hockey. ... I plan to put a significant amount of money back into that to improve it even more.”

On what has kept him so passionate about hockey for so long: “It’s such a fast-moving game. It’s a very physical game. It’s also a very smart game, all right? The same plays that occur in soccer that have soccer fans loving the game occur in hockey, except it’s faster than soccer and it’s far more physical. We don’t have many players laying on the ice complaining that someone hit them too hard. I like the aspect of how creative the game is as it is going on. Sometimes a little two-foot pass creates a beautiful play. It’s always changing.”

On his mother’s influence on his love of hockey: “She came back (to Detroit after living in Greece) right at the start of the Depression in 1930, went to Central High School. She was a field hockey player, and she turned out to be a classic bowler as well. She was a pretty good athlete. I had stumbled downstairs one time back in the early ’50s. There was this game on TV that my mother was watching on an 11-inch round Zenith TV set. Quite sure it wasn’t HD back then. Just happened to be the Detroit Red Wings playing the Montreal Canadiens at Olympia. And right as I started watching the game, Ted Lindsay got into a fight with Maurice Richard, and I thought, ‘This is really cool.’ I just watched the game and was fascinated by it.”

On how much he reflects on winning the Stanley Cup: “Not much. I don’t live in the past. That’s what I keep telling our guys, too. That was 10 years ago.”

On his quest to break the perception that a U.S.-born player couldn’t go far in hockey: “Oh, yeah, that was my main goal. I remember, very ironic, talking to a hockey parent back in 1978 or something like that, maybe 1979. There was a practice going on, and they said, ‘All these kids, the best they can hope for is maybe a college scholarship, maybe a partial one.’ I said, ‘Is that right?’ The team that was practicing had Alfie Turcotte, who ended up being a first-round NHL pick; Pat LaFontaine, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame; Al Iafrate, who ended up being a first-round NHL draft pick. I said, ‘We’ll see about that.’ We had one after another and a whole slew of them that played for our Tier II junior team. We had hundreds of kids get scholarships.”

On what separates the Compuware program from others in the area: “I don’t think there’s anything to separate it. I’m glad there’s a lot of great programs. Caesars was going on when we built ours, and a lot of it was tailored after that. The difference — and we’re going to go back to it — is we didn’t have parents coaching. We had guys who were coaching because they love to do it. I went out and got some fellas who had played college hockey who were in their mid-20s to late-20s, didn’t have any kids involved, and they ran the program. We’re looking for people like that. Occasionally good fortunes fell, and you had a parent with a kid who was a good coach. You wouldn’t tell him to go away, either. The thing that really separated us is we tried to run the amateur hockey program so it was self-sufficient. We ran arenas and hockey schools and put it all back into the program, which was fairly novel at the time. People got excited I was paying coaches. I wasn’t paying coaches to coach. I was paying them to run a business, and, ‘Oh, by the way, in your spare time, coach a team.’”

On the process of strengthening Compuware program today: “I’m about to have a meeting sometime this fall, early winter, with all the coaches and talk about what we want to do with the program, where we want it to go. I don’t want to accept the status quo of picking your (next) team while your current year is still going on. I’d like to see kids try out. They change every year. They develop. It’d be really nice if they had to try out. Back when we started out, people had to try out. We’d have 50 kids at a tryout. But everyone is so PC today, you wouldn’t want your kid feeling hurt by having someone tell them, ‘Well, geez, you didn’t make the team.’ Which is a real mistake on the parents’ part because that’s how life really works — competition and the fact that, ‘Hey, you weren’t good enough. But if you work hard, maybe next year.’”

On his continued involvement in the program: “Most people thought that the minute my older boys got out of hockey that I would drop out. It was too much fun and too many good stories, so we just kept it going.”

On if he’s concerned with any aspect of youth hockey: “Yeah, it’s too expensive. Costs the parents an arm and a leg. When my older boy started skating, ice was $40 an hour. ... Today it’s $300 an hour. Hockey sticks were $4 or $5. Now they’re a hundred-some-odd bucks. Skates were $15 or $20 for the best kind of skates. Now they’re $200, $300. That’s what’s really holding the game back. You can’t get a lot of kids to play. Parents have to be fairly well off. There’s no easy solution. ... Right now the problem in the U.S. is the best athletes in the U.S. generally will go to other sports first. The best athletes in Canada play hockey first.”

On how confident he was of acquiring Fedorov in 1998 when he signed him to a six-year, $38 million offer sheet, which Ilitch ultimately had to match: “Well, I had talked to the Red Wings about if they are going to move Sergei, we’d like to trade. I knew they were shopping him — and hadn’t told us — to Philadelphia, who was in our division. Had a few conversations. I don’t want to get into old history. We decided we could put together that kind of offer and it would be tough for the Wings to match it. And there was a lot of questions about whether that was proper, but I knew we had followed the rules to the nth degree. The Wings’ argument was, ‘Carolina isn’t going to make the playoffs.’ I remember the arbitrator saying, ‘Oh, you know that now? Why do you guys play the season?’ We damn well could have made the playoffs with a player like Fedorov. We had Ronny Francis on the team. He’s the fourth-leading scorer in the history of hockey — did it very quietly. And we had Rod Brind’Amour on that team. It was a pretty good hockey team.”

On ruffling feathers back then: “I don’t care. I’m competitive as well. From growing up in Detroit.”

On his relationship with Ilitch: “His (amateur hockey) team was there long before anyone else. He doesn’t get enough credit for that. Grudging respect. ... We just have different philosophies. It’s like oil and water at times. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. We just don’t mix.”

On fans of the Hartford Whalers still being bitter at him for relocating the franchise to Carolina: “When we went into Hartford, the season before they averaged 6,000 people a game — and that includes games against New York or Boston, where most of the crowd was New York or Boston fans. Hartford’s not a big city. Today, if there was a team in Hartford, it would be the smallest market in the league by a mile. You competed for business with all the New York professional teams, all the Boston professional teams and even a little bit with the Flyers and Islanders. I don’t know why the people there are so upset. The team hadn’t ever won a thing. They had a celebration for a first-round playoff loss.”

On moving to Carolina: “From a business point of view, it’s the fastest-growing area in the country, and it’s continued that way for a long time. The metropolitan area of Raleigh is bigger than Charlotte. I have no other competition on a professional level. ... So we have the whole market to ourselves in Raleigh, and it’s a vibrant market.”

On how much longer he’ll own the Hurricanes: “I don’t know. It depends. I’m 72 years old. I’ve got young kids at home and trying to figure out what the right succession plan is. I’m looking for a partner. My original partner, Tom Thewes, was the greatest partner you could ever have. He passed away in 2008, and I made sure that we cleared everything up for him and his family. I’m really looking for a partner where I can ease out of it in the next three, four or five years.”

On watching an OHL season after selling the Whalers, which are now the Flint Firebirds: “I was up in Flint for their first game, and it was hard for me to even stay throughout the game, 30 years in the OHL. It was tough.”

On how difficult it was to be an American owner in the OHL, first with the Windsor Spitfires and then with the team that eventually became the Whalers: “Well, 30 years ago, Dave Branch and Sherry Bassin had to go to bat to even allow us as U.S. owners to buy the team in Windsor. They were, ‘No.’ An awful lot of work was done to buy the team. (Branch) wanted to make the league more dynamic, and they ended up with three (U.S.) teams now: Erie, Saginaw and Flint.”

On some of his favorite OHL players: “You go from Windsor to the Compuware Ambassadors to the Junior Red Wings to Plymouth. Start off with players like Adam Graves, and you had players like Pat Peake and Bryan Berard and coaches like (Peter) DeBoer and Paul Maurice, who are now top coaches in the NHL. There’s just been a ton of players. I don’t have a favorite. Paul Maurice is my favorite coach. Paul’s so smart and such a droll sense of humor.”

On the NCAA: “The worst representatives of the sport of hockey is the NCAA, because they talk out of both sides of their mouth. The average freshman is now 21 1/2 years old in college hockey. They say education is an important thing. There’s life after hockey, and you need an education. They have kids finish their high school, and they make them sit in Des Moines or some city (in juniors) for a couple years. And I’ve said, ‘What do you think those kids do when they’re out of school for two years?’ We ran a Tier II junior team, and we would put 10 kids a year at least into college hockey and the (college coaches) around here acted like they were doing us a favor by taking the kids. And I was spending $200,000 to $300,000 a year supporting that team. And when we ended it, they acted like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Nobody from college hockey ever offered to help us, and we were developing players like crazy.”

On convincing fellow NHL owners to help support the U.S. National Team Development Program, which moved into the former Compuware Arena in Plymouth this year: “Developing those players are very important to us. … From an owner’s point of view in the NHL, I want the best athletes in the U.S. to play hockey. We want to the (Jack) Eichels and those kids to have a place to go. It’s very selfish on my part. It works. It’s been a very successful program. It means something to me as an owner in the National Hockey League. It helps us spread hockey through the U.S.”

On his Hall of Fame speech: “It’s hard, trying to figure out whether it’s one big series of thank yous. I think my introduction to hockey will be different than anyone else that’s being inducted with me. And it’s certainly different than most of the people sitting in the room and probably different than many of the people watching on TV. I don’t know many other people that lived and breathed for the third period of Red Wing home games in 1952.”

On the induction ceremony: “Very nervous. A lot of those hockey players are very poised, very good speakers, and they can talk about (their) career. I have to talk about things that are much different than what everyone else is talking about. My stats are pathetic — zero goals, zero assists, zero penalties.”

04 November 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Detroit's nearly 6,000 casino workers authorized union leaders to call a strike if necessary in what has been a difficult and complex round of contract discussions between the Detroit Casino Council and the city's three gambling halls. A Detroit employment lawyer defends small businesses, insurance companies, and large corporations in labor and employment law matters.

Strike authorization votes are often mere formalities designed for negotiating leverage, but the timing in this case has a more ominous feel. That's because the Detroit Casino Council — a consortium of four unions that bargains on behalf of Detroit's casino workers — asked its members for the permission to call a strike just three days after state and federal mediators told the two sides to break for a "cooling-off" period.

A strike at the three casinos would threaten to shut down one of Detroit's major tourist attractions and the city's No. 1 source of tax revenue. Taxes from casino gaming have lately represented about 16% of the City of Detroit's total revenues, or just under $170 million.

The negotiations, which began Aug. 24, have dragged on longer than expected and have included the involvement of mediators from the start. Workers at Greektown Casino, MGM Grand Detroit, and MotorCity Casino are working under an extension of a contract that was originally set to expire Oct. 16. A Charleston labor attorney have experience defending clients in employment related matters involving instances of detrimental labor conditions or discriminatory employment practices.

On Oct. 30, "The mediators recommended that the parties take a 'cooling-off' period to allow time to review all open issues, formulate positions on those issues and prepare for bargaining on the important economic issues," MGM said in an update about the discussions to its workers on a Web site dedicated to the negotiations.

"I can tell you that health care has been the major stumbling block here," said Dave DeLong, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 372 and a member of the bargaining committee. "Our members would like to keep the current coverage that they have without any increased cost."

MGM says it expects health care costs for the three casinos will increase by $46 million, to almost $262 million, over the term of the next four-year contract. MGM has told unions workers that there will be very little money for wages or bonuses if the casino's health care costs are not reduced.

The two sides have explored a variety of ways to reduce health care costs that include the possibility of switching to TeamCare, a union-backed, multi-employer Taft-Hartley plan that uses the Blue Cross network. A Pittsburgh employment lawyer is following this story closely.

"It's up to the unions to decide what their priorities are," Marc Whitefield, a spokesman  for the casinos, said in a recent update for workers. "People need to make a decision of how they want to spend money in these contract negotiations."

"MGM Grand Detroit remains committed to the negotiation process," Steve Zanella, president and chief operating officer of MGM Grand Detroit, said in an e-mail to the Free Press. "Along with the other Detroit casinos and the unions representing our workers, we are eager to work toward a contract that works for everyone."

Gayle Joseph, a spokeswoman for Rock Gaming, which owns Greektown Casino, said, "We believe the parties are negotiating in good faith and are committed to reaching a fair and balanced agreement.”

A spokeswoman for MotorCity declined to comment on the contract talks.

Gaming revenue has been on a roll this year, reversing what had been a gradual decline in gambling revenue since 2012. A Maine labor and employment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Total gambling revenues were up 4.8% during the first six months of this year compared with last year, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which regulates the casinos.

What's next?

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said four negotiating sessions are scheduled in the coming weeks with the three casinos.

Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17, according to MGM's website.

Unions involved

The Detroit Casino Council is a consortium of the four unions that bargain on behalf Detroit's casino workers. It includes employees represented by UAW Local 7777, Unite Here Local 24, Teamsters Local 372 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324.

Casinos on a roll

Total gambling revenues were up 4.8% during the first six months of this year compared with last year, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which regulates Detroit casinos.

Taxes from casino gaming have lately represented about 16% of the City of Detroit's total revenues, or just under $170 million.

The combined annual gambling revenue of the three casinos increased steadily from just over $1 billion in 2001 to $1.42 billion in 2011. In 2012, gambling revenue began to fall as four casinos opened in Ohio, including Hollywood Casino in Toledo.


Original Story: freep.com

Celebrity rehab guru Nicole Curtis wanted you to see the house she has renovated in Detroit's historic Brush Park, but she apparently didn't want you to see the 139-year-old Venetian Gothic home until "Rehab Addict" airs Thursday night on HGTV. A Rochester real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

The home is owned by Quicken Loans, and was restored by Curtis of HGTV's "Rehab Addict."

The Detroit Free Press and several local media companies were invited to tour the Ransom Gillis mansion on Sunday, but upon arrival media members were told by Curtis that they could not take pictures of the inside of the home.

Hit the drama button: Photographers standing there loaded with gear, with nothing to shoot.

In the midst of the awkward moment, a Quicken Loans rep announced that photographers could take as many photos as they wanted. Curtis was not pleased; the annoyed celeb huffed: "I'm going outside." A Los Angeles real estate lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of real estate law.

Monday morning, Curtis posted a Facebook message criticizing the media for taking photos of the house even though the media was invited to Sunday's open house, and told they could take photos.

"I woke up this morning and see interior pics of our latest project splashed on every news outlet. It's disappointing, to say the least. I asked media to stick to the exterior. I did not speak further with them as I had 2,000 people in line and a very excited Tessa in my company," the post said.

"My crew has worked day and night -we have missed 3 months of 'quality' life experiences to get this done ... and instead of setting a house for photographers we chose to focus on the purpose of our opens ---bringing communities together for a cause. Trust when I say these events are exhausting -we didn't get home til after midnight. While we appreciate everyone applauding our work when you come through, that wouldn't be enough to motivate us to dedicate the time ( smile emoticon)) however, knowing how much love we can send one family's way by doing so ????? So worth it." A Boston real estate lawyer are proficient in real property development transactions and in real estate zoning and regulation laws.

The post has been removed. Curtis could not be reached for comment.

Quicken's public relations manager could not be reached for comment.