From the Bridge
For well over a year, state officials knew Michigan’s computer-driven unemployment insurance system had wrongly accused thousands of workers of benefit fraud.
That didn’t stop lawyers for the state from working to derail a class action against the Unemployment Insurance Agency. They’ve succeeded – for now – after the Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed the case in July on a technicality, ruling that workers had waited too long to file their claims.
State lawyers have taken the same hard-line approach against individual workers. In one case, the state spent two years and deployed a team of attorneys to pry back $158 in benefits from a seasonal worker at Bloomfield Hills Country Club named Suzanne Lawrence – only to lose when an appeals court ruled in July there was not “even a scintilla of evidence” she had committed fraud.
But these aren’t the only instances in which Michigan has chosen to fight, rather than make things right, when state government has harmed its citizens.
Consider Flint. Government lawyers continue to contest a battery of lawsuits over the state’s role in the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water, a crisis that unfolded in 2014 when the impoverished city was under state control.
In he worker fraud litigation, Schuette acknowledged in a recent television appearance “there are obviously problems with the unemployment insurance system,” adding: “Most of the time it’s better to solve the problem instead of going to court, right? We ought to fix this and solve the problem.”
Despite getting the fraud class action dismissed, Schuette said lawyers on both sides need to address the merits of each worker’s complaint. “Each party on any lawsuit has to sit down and turn off the phones, turn off the mics and try to get down to business,” he said.
Jennifer Lord, the Royal Oak-based attorney leading the unemployment class-action suit, said it is hard to square Schuette’s television remarks with his “hyper technical defenses designed to block the refund and compensation process.”
“Resolution of (Unemployment Insurance Agency) false fraud scandal this year is in the best interests of the citizens, the agency, the governor and other elected state officials,” Lord told Bridge in an email.
“Inexplicably, the litigation continues.”