Federal case against Ficano, Wayne County now in judge's hands

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A lawsuit against Wayne County and CEO Robert Ficano, alleging an appointee was fired for refusing to do campaign work, is in the hands of a federal judge.

James Wallace says his old boss Bob Ficano used county appointees and sometimes taxpayer money to run his political machine, and that he was fired for resisting. 

On Wednesday, Judge Bernard Friedman heard arguments from the county saying why the case should be tossed, while Wallace's lawyer urged that it go to a jury.

"I went through a year of my life of them just being awful because I wouldn't do what they said," Wallace told 7 Action News in May of last year.

"Some of the people who did political stuff, I've never seen do anything other than political stuff."

Wallace filed his whistleblower suit last year, saying he was retaliated against—and later fired—for not buying tickets to fundraisers and refusing to do campaign work on the county clock.

For months, costly lawyers hired by Wayne County have been waging a fight in federal court, against e-mails obtained by Wallace's lawyer. They show county officials pressing appointees to do campaign work. 

"…there are NO EXCEPTIONS for this week's phone bank…everyone is expected to participate." wrote a campaign staffer.

Scores of others describe campaign meetings as "mandatory"

"We need to get in as many checks as possible," an official wrote to appointees.

"…we must see everyone …with the pledge sheets and checks."  

Ficano's team says even though the e-mails sound serious, no one was punished for not doing campaign work or raising money. 

But Wallace says he was pushed to work on the CEO's non-profit Vision Fund, too.  Ficano's team has said that's not improper, but an e-mail obtained by 7 Action News shows that some Wayne County insiders weren't so sure. After being asked to volunteer for the non-profit, appointee Cindy Dingell showed concern.   

"Trying not to be a prude," she wrote, "but the Vision Fund is not an official county funded program. Just trying to be cautious about using internal resources for this."

Judge Friedman's ruling may not come for months. In a statement, Wayne County Deputy CEO Jeffrey Collins said:

"Mr. Wallace, along with 10 other appointees, was laid off for legitimate, non-retaliatory business reasons, specifically to address significant budgetary concerns.  Consistent with the arguments and evidence presented to the court, we are confident in the County's position that the case should be dismissed. "

Contact Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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