Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Contempt of Court
Week 63 of the occupation
June 17, 2013
Lennette Williams and her daughter Mailauni first came to public attention in 1998. Ms. Williams then challenged the Chief Judge of Wayne County Probate Court Milton Mack because of his mishandling of her $30 million settlement with Henry Ford Hospital. The money was intended to provide for her and Mailauni because of complications that had arisen during the birth of Mailauni, 16 years earlier. Their case became a symbol of the corruption endemic in Probate court. Over the next decade stories abounded of lawyers and judges lining their pockets at the expense of clients who were often unable to defend themselves.
In a thoughtful article in 2002 then Metro Times reporter Curt Guyette did an extensive exposed the corruption surrounding probate court. In the course of this article he quotes Ms. Williams saying, “I resent to have to keep coming through this court and be ripped off. It is wrong. I have told the truth. I have papers proving what I am saying and you have constantly turned a blind ear to it.”
Last week, Ms. Williams not only found herself in court, but in jail. She was stripped of the guardianship of her daughter Mailauni, now a young adult, who sheriffs took from their home in late May. Judge Kathryn George order Ms. Williams locked up for 10 days for contempt of court.
It is hard to image why Ms. Williams would have anything other than contempt for a court process that has repeatedly placed her family at risk. Currently they are facing the possible loss of their home. Without explanation, Judge George refused to accept the recommendation of the estate trustee, Walter Sakowski, that Monique Williams, Mailauni’s older sister, be granted custody. Mailauni has been placed in a group home.
In contrast to the intense battling going on in court, Guyette also describes the love and support Ms. Williams gives her children. As a single mother raising three children, often on income that was disrupted by court procedures, she managed to provide a home of love and affection. No one has ever alleged that she was anything other than a loving, supportive mother.
The same cannot be said for the system of group homes to which her daughter has been sent. Just last month the viscous beating of a young woman at Strathmoor-Manor by a woman charged with her care made national news. No one thinks this was an isolated case.
Reports of the chaotic court proceedings emphasized the disrespect shown the family by the Judge. Voice of Detroit reported: “The judge’s demeanor showed that she was a racist,” said Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, who has worked with the Williams family for 20 years. “Her behavior was offensive to Lennette, her attorney, and all the Black people in the courtroom. It was unbecoming a judge. I’ve seen some wicked judges, but she is the worst. She crushed Mailauni by taking her away from her mother. We are going to ask for a federal investigation of this matter, and there needs to be a forensic audit of the Williams estate.”
The abuses in this case echo those of Maryanne Godboldo who defied a SWAT team in 2011 over her decision to cease administering a drug to her daughter that she thought harmful. Charges have been dismissed three separate times against Ms. Godboldo, who still faces a court hearing.
Ms. Williams is an original member of the Coalition Against Police Brutality. Edwards and Arnetta Grable, Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, and Elaine Steele and Anita Peek of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development support her.
Almost everyone in Detroit has a story to tell of abuses suffered at the hands of arbitrary uses of authority. Today, Ms. Williams symbolizes not only the abuses of a probate system, but the assault by unaccountable authorities on all that we love and value.