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Judge: Gov. Doesn't Have To Testify

A judge ruled Tuesday that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm does not have to testify in a hearing involving the embezzlement charges against former Highland Park manager Art Blackwell.
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A judge ruled Tuesday that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm does not have to testify in a hearing involving the embezzlement charges against former Highland Park Emergency Financial Manager Art Blackwell.

Blackwell, 56, of Detroit, is facing embezzlement charges in a case where he is accused of taking an illegal salary while working as the financial manager.

Blackwell was appointed by Granholm in April 2005 to bring the city out of financial trouble.

"I asked him to be the emergency financial manager for a dollar a year, and, after the year went by, I said he should be paid a decent salary," Granholm said during a recent radio interview.

Michael Murphy of the Michigan Attorney General's Office represented the governor in court Tuesday. "Her testimony is not shown to be necessary or relevant at all," Murphy said.

Judge Roger J. La Rose agreed that the governor should not be put on the witness stand, but the defense insisted it should be allowed to question Granholm about the comments she made on the radio.

"This is a big charade, a big charade," Blackwell said. "No body wants to man up about what happened."

Blackwell's attorney said he would appeal Tuesday's ruling preventing Granholm from testifying.

According to Blackwell, he never received a salary after the one-dollar-a-year agreement ended. "I said (to Granholm) 'I can't do this any more. You either pay me or I have to step down.' "

It is alleged that Blackwell later took checks from Highland Park to make up for the salary he was owed, but he insisted there was nothing illegal about his actions.

According to papers filed in a taxpayer lawsuit, in 2008 Blackwell's contract was renegotiated for an $11,000-per-month salary.

The prosecutor's office's said the Michigan Department of Treasury conducted an audit and concluded that Blackwell was fully compensated for his services when he received $110,000 from April 2008 until his termination from the position in April 2009.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Blackwell also paid himself $264,000 more in checks written from city funding. At the time, Highland Park was facing a $16 million deficit.

The taxpayer civil lawsuit was filed by Highland Park School Board Member Robert Davis.

"At no point in time did his contract indicate he was to pay himself, or enrich himself from the treasury of the City of Highland Park as he did in the amount of $264,000," Davis said.

Worthy said when Blackwell left office it was requested that he repay the city the $264,000, something he has not yet done.

Last month, LaRose denied Blackwell's request to allow him to travel to Canada to negotiate with the Royal Bank of Canada on a foreclosure of a condominium he said he has owned for the last five years.

Prosecutors convinced LaRose that Blackwell was a flight risk and a man with a gambling problem. They also said he has cash stashed in a safe deposit box in Canada.

Blackwell said he doesn't call his excessive gambling a problem; he calls it a profit.