Friday, February 22, 2019
The Detroit Free Press reports
A prominent metro Detroit attorney is facing new claims of professional misconduct for allegedly mouthing off to a young female prosecutor and then, in a Facebook rant, misrepresenting what happened.
The Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission filed a complaint last month against Clifford Woodards II, a criminal defense attorney and former 910 AM radio show host, accusing him of discourteous and unprofessional behavior in his March 2018 encounter with the prosecutor in Detroit's 36th District Courthouse.
Woodards, 56, who started the Detroit Law Center in Southfield, has come under scrutiny in the past for derogatory comments in person and on Facebook concerning female court personnel or fellow lawyers, including remarks about the attire of a lesbian attorney.
In 2017, Woodards was reprimanded by the Attorney Discipline Board and ordered to pay $750 after telling a probation agent in Wayne County Circuit Court that she had "angry black woman's syndrome" and "that's why you don't have a husband."
Woodards is also black.
The incident at the center of last month's complaint occurred in the Detroit Law Department office inside the courthouse, where Woodards went to obtain a plea offer for a client who had a driving ticket for a prohibited left turn.
The prosecutor assigned to the case had worked in the office for less than a year. She told Woodards that she first needed to see the client's driving record before any plea could be offered.
That response caused Woodards to become aggressive and argumentative, the complaint says. He said he had been working downtown for 15 years and insisted there was no such policy.
Woodards then proceeded to belittle the prosecutor, calling her a child and saying that she was too inexperienced to know how things were done in the office, the complaint says.
"She's probably only been practicing law for six months and she's going to try to tell me the policy," Woodards allegedly told a secretary in the office.
'Know your place'
Woodards at one point walked within inches of the female prosecutor, pointed his finger in her face and said something to the effect of "You need to back up little girl and know your place," according to the complaint.
Hearing raised voices, the prosecutor's supervisor then entered the room and separated Woodards and the prosecutor.
The grievance complaint says the prosecutor was correct about the office's formal policy regarding driving records and plea offers.
Reached by phone Monday, Woodards declined to comment about any details of the grievance complaint while the complaint is still active.
Attorney grievance complaints can result in disciplinary actions, such as a reprimand, suspension or even disbarment.
After leaving the office, Woodards went on Facebook and wrote a lengthy post about the incident, naming the prosecutor and depicting her as the perpetrator.
The grievance complaint says Woodards' narration of what happened wasn't accurate.
"She lost all maturity and professionalism," Woodards wrote. "She went straight into rat mode, stepped into my personal space and derisively started waving papers directly in my face."
He continued, "Whatever happened to the idea of just shutting up, being quiet and learning the law, at least for a while, before you start arguing with lawyers who have been doing this since you were in high school? … Who told these young black women that it's okay to step into a man's personal space and wave objects in his face?"
Woodards' Facebook post garnered more than 200 reactions before he erased it several days later.
In 2016, Woodards made headlines for a different Facebook post in which he criticized a lesbian attorney's attire during a training event for criminal defense attorneys in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
The post said: “After watching yet another woman dressed up like a man, wearing sagging jeans, boxer briefs and sporting a mohawk, it finally dawned on me to ask this question: Why you wearing men’s draws though? It’s not like you’re gonna need the flap. Do they make you feel more manly? I don’t understand."
Woodards made the Facebook post during the training event. His post didn't identify the attorney by name, but said "she sitting right across from me now."
The attorney, Erica Moise, recalled in a phone interview last week that Woodards' post nevertheless caused a commotion in the middle of the September 2016 training event.
"So all these other attorneys around me started talking about my underwear, because everyone in the room is mutual friends," Moise said. "Then I commented on it, asking him to stop, but he kept going."
Woodards' post garnered more than 100 reactions and comments, including comments by people who denounced his language as offensive and homophobic.
Responding to some of the comments, Woodards offered a graphic reference to gay men and sex.
Coincidentally, Moise had once dated Woodards' own adult daughter for about three months. But Woodards said that at the time he was unaware of their past relationship.
“I had no idea that my daughter had dated her when I wrote that," he said Monday.
Woodards went on to discuss his Facebook post and the controversy it generated during his 910 AM radio show.
For her part, Moise insisted last week that she was not dressed inappropriately for the attorney training event, which took place on a Friday. She said that many of the attorneys there wore jeans or even tracksuits.
“Unless you have court on a Friday afternoon, no attorney is going to wear their suit for other attorneys. That’s ridiculous," Moise said.
She also denied sagging her jeans so low that her underwear was visible.
“You could not see my underwear — that’s a lie," Moise said. "He might have been looking when I tied my shoe."
Judge Colombo gets involved
The now-retired Wayne Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo Jr. was among those who were disturbed by Woodards' Facebook post about Moise's attire.
He wrote a letter to the Attorney Grievance Commission requesting an investigation for what he saw as a potential violation of professional conduct rules.
"Mr. Woodards failed to treat Ms. Moise with courtesy and respect based solely upon her attire and sexual orientation," Colombo wrote in the Oct. 18, 2016 letter.
Colombo last week recalled taking offense to the Facebook post.
“I was disturbed about it," Colombo said in a Free Press interview. "I felt, one, that he had disrupted our education program and, two, I felt it was just wrong to be criticizing this female attorney. I thought it was bullying."
However, the judge's letter did not prompt the commission to make a formal complaint about Woodards' Facebook post.
“The Attorney Grievance Commission decided not to take any action. I assume — but I am just guessing — that they were concerned about First Amendment issues," Colombo said.
Grievance commission investigations that do not lead to formal complaints are kept private.
Speaking on Monday, Woodards offered the following statement about his 2016 Facebook controversy: “In today’s modern society, social media has often supplanted mainstream traditional media. Occasionally, when this platform is used, questions are raised as to whether the author of the content is functioning as a journalist and therefore exercising First Amendment rights.”