Traverse City Record-Eagle


September 20, 2013

Detroit bankruptcy foes beg for judge's help

DETROIT (AP) — It all came down to three minutes.

It took decades of mismanagement to build the massive problems that plunged Detroit into bankruptcy. Lawyers will spend months in court sorting out the city's finances.

But the people most affected, the retirees and residents, often aren't at the table. For a few brief moments Thursday, they got the chance to tell a judge about what the mistakes will mean for them. How they'll make ends meet. How they feel robbed after decades of service. How the city seems on the verge of breaking the promise of a pension.

But each had just three minutes — 180 seconds — to make the case.

Some used canes. Some wore their Sunday best. All were passionate, even when soft-spoken. For the first time since the city filed for Chapter 9 protection, surrendering under $18 billion in long-term debt, most attorneys were in the back row listening while taxpayers were at the front talking.

"I object to being referred to as a creditor," said retiree Paulette Brown, a former water department employee who got notice of the bankruptcy because her pension is at risk. "What I am is a dedicated public servant. ... Who's going to prison for the proposed cruelty to retirees?"

City resident Sylvester Davis invoked a higher power: "If you've got God in you," he told the judge, "do the right thing. Disallow this mess."

Judge Steven Rhodes replied: "Well spoken, sir."

Detroit has filed for bankruptcy protection but that question remains unsettled until a trial in late October. Creditors, residents and others have a right to object to the city's eligibility. And under the rules, they also have a right to be heard.

A red light went on if speakers exceeded the three-minute limit, but the judge was generous, often allowing people to keep talking. He left it to a courtroom guard to remove anyone who simply wouldn't stop.

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