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Wednesday, January 22,2014

Colorful, candid Collette

Ingham County circuit judge, gearing up for trial with Enbridge protesters, is tired of publicity seekers

by Andy Balaskovitz
At a Jan. 15 hearing, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette was getting antsy with the defendants and their lawyers before him.

The hearing was on a motion to dismiss charges against four people arrested in July for protesting against oil-pipeline giant Enbridge by chaining themselves to heavy machinery at a site in Stockbridge. Attorney Robert Gaecke was arguing an esoteric point in property easement law, saying that Enbridge didn’t have authority to order them off the property because it leased the land. Collette interrupted him.

“I am tired of people coming in here seeking publicity for themselves,” Collette said, accusing the group of staging such protests — and making such motions — simply for the attention and news cameras. He would not grant the motion to quash the charges. “I’m ready to try these cases. … I’m tired of it, and it’s going to go to trial.”

He’d go on to say that he is “unsympathetic to people who try to use this courtroom as some place to make a statement about your problems.”

Protesters argued it was classic civil disobedience.

The four defendants — Vicci Hamlin, Lisa Leggio, Barbara Carter and William Lawrence — are each charged with trespassing (a misdemeanor) and maximum two-year felonies for resisting and obstructing a police officer. Their trial is scheduled to begin on Monday at the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason.

“To think we would do this for publicity, with the risk of years in prison, is just absurd,” Hamlin said. “Yes, it is for publicity because we want to reach the masses and let them know what’s going on. But we certainly aren’t doing it for that reason.

“I just really believe it’s important for future generations to protest and make change or it will only get worse than it already is.”

Though appearing sympathetic to the underlying cause of the case, “I don’t think chaining yourself to construction equipment to make sure the TV cameras come out and see you is what I’m talking about,” Collette said. “If I could personally ever say that, I’d support you 100 percent. But not as a judge.”

Collette’s comments from the bench should be of little surprise to those familiar with the outspoken judge. He delivered biting comments against the Snyder administration and Legislature after changes last year to the Court of Claims structure, spreading cases statewide rather than in liberal-leaning Ingham County. He reportedly called it “nothing but payback for having the gall to stand up to them.”

He also allowed a challenge to the state’s Right-to-Work law to move forward in May because it allegedly violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. The challenge wasn’t on the merits of the law, but whether the government operated within the law on transparency.

“If I hear that word again, transparency, I’m going to jump off a bridge,” Collette told City Pulse. “The truth is with transparency, government spends most of its time trying not to be transparent.”

In another Open Meetings Act case involving Detroit’s emergency financial team, Collette ordered all 10 members of it to appear before him in court “to answer why they should not be held in contempt” for meeting in secret to allegedly avoid the law, the Detroit Free Press reported.

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