Michigan Suburb, Insurer Settle Employee Firing Case

By Ed White | January 19, 2011

The Detroit suburb of Southgate and its insurance company agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former court official who claimed she was fired because she questioned how a longtime judge handled money.

At the direction of his attorney, Southgate District Court Judge James Kandrevas invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 200 times when he was interviewed during a deposition in the case last summer.

Former court administrator Lori Shemka was paid $193,000 and her lawyers received $107,000, according to the agreement obtained by The Associated Press under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Shemka said she was wrongly fired by Kandrevas in 2009 after objecting to how he created bank accounts and used money. He said she was “incompetent” and “just a snooper.”

“She was snooping all over the place,” the judge said during his deposition.

Shemka’s lawsuit in federal court was closed in December, with no admission by the judge or the court of any wrongdoing. Southgate paid $50,000 and the balance was covered by insurance.

“The insurance company instructed its counsel to settle. You make a business decision,” said Southgate city attorney Ed Zelenak.

Kandrevas has been a judge since 1990, and the courthouse south of Detroit bears his name. In August, he said he was being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department over a grant application, and by the state police and the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, a watchdog agency.

The status of those investigations was not immediately known Monday. Messages seeking comment were left with Kandrevas and his attorney, Philip Thomas. In the past, Thomas has denied any wrongdoing by the judge.

Shemka’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, said Kandrevas’ decision to remain silent on many questions hastened the settlement, although “we had a very strong case.”

“How can you be a judge and take the Fifth? There’s something wrong with that,” Gordon said. “Why are you a judge? This was not a small matter.”

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