St Clair County (ECWd) -
In a Press Release from olcplc.com, they explain how the former township supervisor was held personally liable for her actions in violating the Open Meetings law and cutting off public comments she did not agree with. The Court, in their ruling, ordered her to pay fines to each speaker, their attorney fees, and the township's attorney fees.
PRESS RELEASES AND STATEMENTS
Former Cottrellville Supervisor Found Personally Liable in Open Meetings case
For Immediate Release | Posted May 30, 2016
Cottrellville Township, MI – By a written decision issued May 25, 2016, former Cottrellville Township supervisor Kelly Fiscelli was ordered to be held personally liable for her actions in violating Michigan's Open Meetings Act during a township board meeting in May 2013. Despite a video-recording proving her actions, Fiscelli, since the beginning, has rejected responsibility.
In the public meeting, Fiscelli, formerly known as Kelly Lisco, intentionally ended the individual public comments of three local citizens, Michael Zoran, Kyle Sunday and Austin Adams, before their three-minute public comment period was through. Each were halted in mid-presentation
- See the video of the public comments portion of the May 2013 meeting (HERE).
Michigan law requires public bodies and their officials to have and entertain public comments in public meeting.
Fiscelli allowed other local residents to speak their allotted three minutes, without interruption, but when Fiscelli or her policies were the subject of political criticism, she ended their respective public presentations.
During the half-day trial in February, Fiscelli claimed ignorance of the law and lack of experience as township supervisor. St Clair County Circuit Court Judge Michael West rejected these suggestions and instead ordered each of the three plaintiffs be award $250.00 in exemplary damages and also ordered reimbursement of their actual attorney fees and costs to be paid by Fiscelli personally.
Fiscelli’s same actions also previously caused the township to incur more than $8,000 in ordered costs and expenses under the statute.
The May 25th decision specifically notes that the actions of Fiscelli “at the very least are ill informed and unprofessional, and at the worst, discriminatory and a suppression of free speech.” All three speakers were at podium speaking in political support of then-trustee Michael Zoran or township policies he favored when she ended their respective public comment.
“Township officials are elected to serve all the voters and must, at least, hear out their concerns when they attend a public meeting,” states Outside Legal Counsel attorney Philip L. Ellison. “Laws like the Open Meetings Act prevent public officials from intentionally silencing those who do not share their political views.”
Further court hearings will determine the amount of attorney fees and costs Fiscelli will be ordered to pay.
This decision follows a three-year court battle which included an appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals sitting in Detroit.
This same decision also ruled that Zoran’s request of removing Fiscelli from office to be moot, i.e. legally immaterial, given most recent political developments within the township.
Since December 2013, Zoran’s attorney argued Fiscelli forfeited her elected office when Fiscelli, after being elected as supervisor, moved outside the township. The case included a petition to the court for a relatively rare court order known as a writ of quo warranto, the specialized judicial command removing someone from public office. After initially refusing to hear the claim, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, ruling the trial court should have granted the request to include the quo warranto claim in the lawsuit.
After granting needed permission to pursue the writ, the voters of Cottrellville overwhelming recalled Fiscelli via a recall petition for violations of the Open Meetings Act. Because the recall mooted the need for such a writ, the St Clair County Circuit Court declined to further rule on the request and Fiscelli's opposition of the same.
A copy of the decision can be downloaded here.
Editors' Note: OLC attorney Philip L. Ellison, MBA, JD, Esq practices governmental transparency and government corruption litigation throughout Michigan having obtained judgments and orders keeping local, regional, and state governments operating in an open and transparent manner.