After delays to his appointment amid concerns about his impartiality, Detroit Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett became the city’s top attorney. The Detroit City Council approved his re-nomination for corporation counsel 8-to-1. The vote did not appear on the meeting’s agenda beforehand.
“I do believe, as I indicated in my prior testimony, that my record speaks to my ability to create a bridge. To, in fact, be impartial,” Mallett told City Council via Zoom on Tuesday. “I will be present. I will be available. And I will be forthright.”
Mallett was the first African American to serve as chief justice in the state, serving on the Michigan Supreme Court between 1990 and 1998. Before joining the city administration, Mallett held executive positions at the Detroit Medical Center, where Duggan was once president and CEO. Duggan later appointed Mallett as Detroit’s deputy mayor in 2020, tasking him with leading the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duggan celebrated Mallett’s appointment as corporation counsel last December.
“We are fortunate to have one of Michigan’s most respected attorneys in our administration and we could not find anyone more perfect for this position,” Duggan said at the time. “I don’t know of another city in the United States of America that can say its corporation counsel is a former chief justice of their state’s Supreme Court.”
Still, the appointment faced scrutiny. Detroit’s corporation counsel provides legal representation to both the mayor and city lawmakers. Some on City Council expressed concerns that Mallett would not be able to represent the city’s various offices “fairly and equally.” In February, Duggan rescinded his nomination for Mallett.
Detroit City Councilmember Angela Whitfield Calloway had consistently objected to Mallett’s appointment due to his proximity to the city’s mayor.
“It is clear that there is a significant potential for a material limitation of the independence of this attorney as he will need to give legal representation to multiple clients,” Whitfield Calloway said before she cast the only vote against Mallett’s appointment.
“Under the circumstances, the public will always wonder whether or not Conrad Mallett Jr. gave clear and independent legal counsel or whether he simply gave Mayor Duggan the legal opinion that was requested by the executive branch of the municipal government to the detriment of Detroit City Council or an individual City Councilmember.”
In January, Whitfield Calloway requested Detroit City Council to take its search nationwide for a suitable nominee. While that motion failed, her colleagues expressed they spoke with candidates for the position.
“We did do a search. We asked to see if there were other lawyers or attorneys that would be able to take on the role,” said Detroit City Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero.
The renewed effort came as a surprise to Whitfield Calloway.
“I’d like to know the details of that search and when did that search occur?”
City Council President Mary Sheffield said the city put out “feelers” to gauge interest, though the search was not nationwide. City Council President Pro Tem James Tate said he made calls himself.
“Once it was determined, from many that I talked to specifically, that there may be an issue with council and the mayor, they didn’t want to have anything to do with it and they pulled out,” said Tate.
The position to lead the city’s law department had been vacant since its previous director, Lawrence Garcia, left the job to join a private firm. Garcia faced public criticism for leading an unsuccessful counter lawsuit against the police abolitionist group Detroit Will Breathe and other demonstrators who took part in the 2020 protests. During the end of his tenure, Garcia faced misconduct complaints by Detroit’s Inspector General Ellen Ha for offering legal aid to public officials under investigation by her office. Chuck Raimi, deputy corporation counsel, has been leading Detroit’s law department on an interim basis since Garcia’s departure.