District Judge Hugh Clarke Jr. has ordered Lansing to pay East Side property owner Edwar Zeineh $7,200 in attorney fees after the city wrongfully towed two vehicles from Zeineh’s property that blocked passage through an alley on the 2000 block of Michigan Avenue.
The towing fees, which totaled more than $300, were dismissed. Zeineh, himself an attorney, hired Birmingham-based Issa Haddad as his counsel.
The case appears headed to Circuit Court on appeal, but it is a victory for the East Side property owner after he drew the ire of neighbors last summer for blocking the alley behind his properties at 2006 and 2010 E. Michigan Ave. Lansing City Attorney Janene McIntyre said last week that the city has the right to appeal Clarke’s decision on the attorney fees. “At this point, we’re trying to resolve this” out of court, McIntyre said.
“That’s not going to happen,” Zeineh said in response.
In July, Zeineh parked two cars that obstructed passage through the alley on property owned by him and the entity EL Investment Properties. Zeineh bought the properties from Pat Lindemann, the Ingham County drain commissioner, in February 2013. Lindemann’s family owned the properties, which included a well-known butcher shop, for over 40 years.
After 5 p.m. on a July evening, the city had the cars towed, saying they were abandoned. According to court documents, the city then claimed the cars were blocking a fire lane, which was designated as such only after the cars were towed.
Clarke ruled that the cars were neither abandoned (because they were on Zeineh’s property, were registered to him, and one even had Zeineh’s business card displayed in the window) nor were they blocking a fire lane, which hadn’t been established at the time and which Clarke called a “remedial action” by the city.
Zeineh said he’s appealing a city board’s decision that designated the alleyway a fire lane after his vehicles were towed.
Clarke also said in court that the matter could have been resolved without any towing. Evidence that the cars were towed after 5 p.m. on a Friday evening suggests that wasn’t the case, he said.
“He was never presented with the opportunity in what appears to be the haste to get this issue resolved,” Clarke said, according to a court transcript.
Zeineh called the towing a “petty way to solve a perceived problem.”
When asked why he blocked passage through the alley in the first place, Zeineh said: “I think it was my right to. In hindsight, would I have done something different? Maybe. But this is free speech in my eyes.”