DETROIT (AP) — A judge ordered the 84-year-old owner of Detroit's Ambassador Bridge to jail Thursday for failing to meet court orders on a construction project linking the span to adjacent interstates.
Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards said Manuel "Matty" Moroun and top lieutenant Dan Stamper will stay in jail until they comply with a 2010 order to get the work going. It's unclear how long they'll be behind bars after an appeals court hours later refused to suspend the decision and release them.
"It is clear that the Detroit International Bridge Co. does not intend to comply with the court orders unless meaningful sanctions are imposed," Edwards said.
Lawyers for Moroun and Stamper asked Edwards to freeze his decision while they appeal, but the judge declined.
Ken Mogill, lawyer for Stamper, said the judge was "absolutely wrong" since it is the company, not the men, that was earlier found in contempt.
"Neither Mr. Moroun nor Mr. Stamper had received a notice that they individually could be facing consequences," Mogill said. "It's not enough that a company has been found in contempt. The law is so clear."
The bridge company also must pay $7,500, the maximum under state law for civil contempt, and the state's legal fees.
Moroun, listed by Forbes magazine as a billionaire, and Stamper were escorted out of the courtroom by deputies. After getting an emergency request, the Michigan Court of Appeals declined to release them while the broader case is appealed.
The three-judge panel said attorneys cited the wrong law in their filings, although one of the judges was in favor of granting a stay and freeing the men.
"We are disappointed the court denied the emergency motion," Alan Upchurch of Marx Layne & Co. said in an email on behalf of the bridge company. "Everyone should be accorded due process of law and have the opportunity to respond to clearly stated charges, and that was not the case with Judge Edwards' decision."
Upchurch said the company believes the appeal ultimately will succeed.
Moroun's son, Matthew Moroun, accused Edwards of having a "personal vendetta" against the bridge executives.
"A judge viciously lashed out at Matty Moroun and Dan Stamper and ordered a penalty outside the bounds of a civil case that was excessive, unwarranted and outrageous," the younger Moroun said in a statement.