By J. PATRICK PEPPER
HEIGHTS — A whistleblower lawsuit against Mayor Daniel Paletko has the longtime city official on the defensive in more ways than one.
In a motion for a temporary restraining order against the suit’s plaintiff, former Community and Economic Development Director Hassane Jamal, Paletko’s lawyers say he has become the victim of an extortion plot by Jamal.
“…Jamal has embarked in a campaign of destruction in an attempt to embarrass Mayor Daniel Paletko into an improper and unwarranted settlement in this pending litigation,” the motion reads.
The restraining order motion details a series of incidents that Paletko’s attorneys believe amount to extortion, beginning with a meeting in August at the Panera Bread on Ford Road between the mayor, City Attorney Gary Miotke, and businessmen Zouher Abel-Hak and Nabil Fakih.
The motion says that during the course of the one-hour meeting, Abdel-Hak told Paletko he should rehire Jamal or “bad things would happen.” The motion alleges Abdel-Hak also said he had bought off the City Council in regard to Jamal’s employment status, bragging that he had “full control over the council.”
Since that meeting, two anonymous mass mailings have been sent to houses throughout the city skewing heavily to absentee voters, a typical bellwether in Heights elections. Contained in the first mail was Jamal’s 18-page complaint that was filed Oct. 2 in U.S. District Court.
The motion claims that the first mailing “did not succeed,” which prompted the second mail containing tawdry – and Paletko says untrue – details excerpted from his 2006 divorce proceedings. The documents indicate that Paletko’s wife was so destitute during the couple’s divorce that she was forced to apply for food stamps for their children.
The motion makes no connection between Abdel-Hak and Jamal, nor does it purport there is any evidence beyond hearsay that Abdel-Hak sent the mailings. But this is not the first time Abdel-Hak, whose wife Kathleen is running for the City Council, has been accused of October political attacks.
According to an Associated Press story, in 1998 Abdel-Hak was questioned by police after state Senate candidate Rhonda Runco accused him of harassment. Runco alleged that Abdel-Hak circulated fliers implying that she was a former exotic dancer. Abdel-Hak was never charged with any wrongdoing in the matter.
But Paletko’s fight in the court of public opinion isn’t limited to his dispute with Abdel-Hak. In a cease-and-desist directive at http://dearbornheights.wordpress.com, Paletko’s lawyer James Acho put the blog’s anonymous administrator and posters on notice.
The Livonia attorney cautioned legal action against anyone writing defamatory or libelous material about Paletko or any Dearborn Heights employee. In the notice, Acho praised first amendment free speech, but with a caveat.
“When mistruths and deliberately ina(c)curate statements are made/posted about individuals under the cloak of anonymity, that crosses the line. And that’s also when attorneys get involved,” Acho wrote.
And while his attorneys try to snuff out what they call a deliberate campaign of misinformation, Paletko is facing criticism from some colleagues in the city. At the Oct. 27 council meeting, after asking Miotke if the council could hire its own attorney, Councilwoman Marge Horvath questioned Paletko on several of the key aspects in the lawsuit. Following Horvath’s pointed interrogatory, Paletko looked to Miotke at his left and sat silent.
“Would you like me to call back tomorrow?” asked Horvath.
Paletko responded that it would be inappropriate to discuss ongoing litigation in a public forum and said he would call a closed council session to discuss the matter at a later date. Near the end of the meeting, Paletko, who has referred press questions to his attorneys, read from a prepared statement addressing his critics.
“I will not allow a handful of people that only represent themselves or a small number in their community to dictate how our city should be run. I have always have put the people of Dearborn Heights first, and my actions will always be to continue to serve with both honesty and integrity,” Paletko said, garnering a round of applause by the audience.