January 02, 2013 - The first time former Oxford Village Deputy Clerk Marion Patricia Paad got her day in court, it resulted in her being acquitted of embezzlement charges related to public funds.
She's hoping her next day in court will be a big pay day as she's filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the village, Manager Joe Young and Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth.
Young and Helmuth are both being sued in their individual capacities.
In the suit, Paad, who was terminated in March 2011, is seeking money damages against all three defendants "for purposeful discrimination and/or retaliation," which she claims took the form of her losing her job and standing trial for criminal charges that she was innocent of.
Flint attorney Tom R. Pabst is representing Paad.
"What a wicked thing – you retaliate against someone by just concocting phony charges and forcing them to go through a criminal prosecution," he said. "I can't think of anything really, in a civilized society, that's more hideous than that."
Paad is suing the village, Helmuth and Young for violating her constitutional rights and malicious prosecution.
Paad claims that "throughout her tenure" with the village, she "raised concerns" involving "improper spending/use of taxpayers' money, and/or volunteers stealing taxpayers' money" to village officials, management and employees.
Because of this, Paad's complaint alleges she found herself facing "false and baseless" charges of embezzlement that "were made to try to cover up (the) defendants' unlawful conduct."
"I think they concocted embezzlement charges against her that they knew were false," Pabst explained. "I think they did that, in part at least, because she raised matters of public concern, namely that certain volunteers were ripping money off from the village – taking taxpayers' money and wasting it, stealing it. Nobody could find where it went . . . (The village was) using volunteers and they had access to the money and the money was disappearing."
Pabst cited an example in which Paad witnessed some of this happening with office staff provided to the village through the Michigan Works program. Basically, these folks were paid by the state to work in the village office as a form of job training, so technically they're not volunteers, according to Young.
"These people didn't want to be there. They didn't care," Pabst said. "(Young) had them handling money. When people would come in and pay their taxes or their water bills, they'd pay in cash . . . They were observed giving too much change to people who came in and paid their bills. They'd give them change for $300 instead of $200. Things like that. Money was just not being accounted for."
Pabst said Paad initially brought these concerns to Young, but he did nothing and even told Paad not to say anything to council because "they work for me, not you."
"Frustrated" by Young's alleged inaction, she expressed her concerns to a council member. Because of this, Pabst said Young "just went ballistic on her," screaming about how "you don't go to them, you come to me."
"He really didn't like that and I know that for a fact," the attorney noted. "He just reamed her out, screamed at her and yelled, 'Don't you ever do that again!'"
Pabst reiterated his client went over Young's head to council because "he wasn't doing anything about it."
"He's supposed to be watching the taxpayers' money," he said. "Why is he asleep at the switch or seemingly so?"
Pabst noted "not all that long thereafter . . . all of a sudden someone's making false charges that (Paad) embezzled money, which would have been easy enough to prove she didn't, but they ran with it."
Back in April 2012, an Oakland County Circuit Court jury found Paad not guilty of five felony counts of embezzlement by a public official over $50. Each count was punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Paad was accused of stealing more than $3,300 in property tax payments from three village residents in 2006. She was also charged with embezzling almost $600 worth of village police department funds in 2010.
"She didn't do anything wrong," Pabst said. "She didn't steal anything and they can't prove that she did."
The accusations concerning the alleged theft of these tax funds were made by Helmuth in January 2011, resulting in Paad's suspension without pay and two months later, her termination.
After remaining silent about what she knew for four years, Helmuth went to Young and admitted she discovered the alleged embezzlement, loaned Paad money from her own pocket to cover the missing tax funds in early 2007 and didn't report the incident to the village.
At the time all this supposedly occurred, Helmuth was not serving on council in an elected capacity, but was employed by the village as its deputy treasurer. She was promoted to treasurer by Young in July 2007.
Paad is seeking a judgment for lost wages and benefits, past and future; compensatory damages for emotional distress and mental anguish; punitive and exemplary damages "commensurate with the wrongs done and the defendants' ability to pay;" and an award for interest, costs and reasonable attorney fees.
When asked how much he believes Paad will be awarded if her suit is successful, Pabst replied, "I think it will approach seven figures."
"The reason I say that is this – we're entitled to recover compensatory damages and punitive damages," he explained. "Compensatory damages (involve) lost wages – both past and future for how many ever years the jury thinks that she would have continued to work – and then she's got emotional distress (and) mental anguish. Can you imagine what she went through? What type of emotional meat grinder (it was)? My goodness, she's not only fired for being a thief and falsely branded, then she's got to go through a criminal trial (from which) she could lose her liberty. That would cause most people to lose some sleep.
"Then on top of that, because the individual defendants (Young and Helmuth) did it maliciously, she's going to recover punitive damages against them . . . You can't get punitive damages against the village. You can't get punitive damages against a governmental entity. But you can get them against individual defendants if they acted with malice, which (could take the form of) a deliberate indifference to Pat Paad's rights or an evil motive, like to cover up for their own wrongdoing."
Pabst is confident that if this case goes before a jury, Paad will win.
"I trust juries more than anything in this whole country – more than the voting process, more than anything," he said. "I think they really try to do justice. When you have someone innocent like Pat Paad, who stood up for her rights – she didn't cop a plea, (she didn't) take the easy way out – and (who) now asserts her legal rights again, I think juries like people like that. What's not to like about Pat Paad? I wouldn't be surprised if (the award) was over $1 million."
"I'm very proud to represent people like Pat Paad," Pabst noted. "She didn't do anything wrong here that I can see, which is why I took her case. She paid a heck of a price for trying to stop taxpayer money from being ripped off."
Young had no comment on the lawsuit other than to say he, Helmuth and the village will all be represented by an attorney provided by the municipality's former insurance carrier, the Michigan Municipal League. Young indicated he and Helmuth will be represented by this attorney because Paad's accusations are related to them acting in their "capacity" as village officials.
Helmuth did not return a phone call seeking comment by press time.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.