The Czuprynski Affair

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A Step Back In Time: Part II

On March 19, 1974,  forty-two years ago, the Bay City Times published a prominent editorial entitled “The Czuprynski Affair”.  As mentioned in the first post of this series (Feb. 19), 1974 was an exceptionally active year for a  reformed-minded 23-year-old. It was a time of high idealism for lots of folks who grew up in during the 60’s, a decade of social movements and community awareness. This editorial covers three events then swirling around me, including the Impeachment Rally against President Nixon, covered in my first post in this series.

 In 1973, I was recruited to serve as the field investigator for the newly-created Office of the Public Defender (PD). My community driven political work with then-State Representative J. Bob Traxler was influential in securing this appointed position.

 I met Traxler the year before, in 1972, the year of my political awakening. I had worked for six months of training full-time and without compensation, at the law firm he shared with his partner, James Orford. Volunteering for these two distinguished attorneys was a major stroke of good fortune and it laid the foundation for my ongoing commitment to mentor young people.

 The March 13, 1974 editorial refers to a lawsuit I filed against Bay County during my second year as the PD investigator. For many years, Bay County was dominated by an entrenched political machine that demanded payment from those individuals employed by the County. So, unless exempted by the local political bosses, a new county employee was subject to a practice of deducting 10% of their paycheck during the first 3 months of employment, and then 5% of their gross wages during the second 3-month period. This pay-to-keep-your-job money was permanently withheld from county employees. I first became suspicious of this long time practice when I discovered it was administered in a shockingly unjust way.

If a new employee was a friend or relative of a local official backed by the insular political machine, no deductions were made from their paychecks. Moreover, the six month probationary pay deductions were NOT mentioned in the union contract or the personnel policies governing county employees, and no one seemed to know how the money was used or where it went.

 The editorial also mentioned my involvement in soliciting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to look into the deplorable conditions at the Bay County Jail on Center Avenue (across from the County Building). After its independent investigation to confirm the information I provided, the ACLU sued Bay County in Federal Court, leading to the court-ordered construction of the Bay County Jail on 3rd Street.

 As a result of the ACLU’s federal case, and my challenge of the political patronage being practiced in Bay County Government, County Administrator, Francis “Bud” Voisine, placed a threatening call to my boss. Voisine was a local political boss whose position had been specially made for him by the Board of Commissioners, of which he was a member when the appointed full-time position was created.

My boss, the staunchly ethical James Orford, resigned and published a letter entitled “Challenged” in the Bay City Times. In the letter, he explicitly explains why he resigned his position as Public Defender rather than fire me as demanded to by a political boss. The County Administrator, Voisine, denied that was the reason he phoned my boss. (You will learn more about Voisine in future posts.)

 So against this backdrop, “The Czuprynski Affair” was published along with other articles, all of which are now being provided, including Orford’s letter “Challenged”.

Coming in future posts:

  • How I forced the County Administrator, Voisine, to resign from his county position.
  • My exposé of favorable treatment by our local government of politically connected contractors, who demanded a retraction of my charges while threatening a lawsuit.

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Sifting out the issues in

the Ed Czuprynski affair  is not easy.

There is the alleged effort to pressure the public defender into firing Czuprynski, his investigator. There is the question of the investigator’s salary and a longtime county practice of withholding a percentage of a new employee’s salary. There is the impeachment rally arranged by Czuprynski and Charles Conner. And there is the firing of Connor from his library job, after the impeachment rally.

Both Czuprynski and Connor are considering court action, and any allegations of violation of rights or other illegal activity would have to be dealt with in the courts.

On the rally question, the city comes out with the short end. The rally was held and there were no incidents, but the police presence was far too obvious and the official movie-making totally unnecessary. The right to petition, to demonstrate, to rally for a cause in a public place is a basic, absolutely essential democratic right. To exercise that right ought not to subject anyone to a presumption of trouble-making or illegality.

The only purpose of an ordinance requiring a permit of any kind for the use of public places ought to be to see that the area is suitable to the proposed use and that public facilities and controls are adequate. If the purpose is other than that, if it is to restrain or discourage, it is clearly unconstitutional.

A city ordinance provides that the city manager may “make such rules and regulations pertaining to the conduct and use of public parks and park facilities as are necessary to administer the same or to protect public property or the safety, health, morals, public welfare, peace and/or quiet and good order of the neighborhood.

It does not require applications for park use. A “code of conduct” promulgated by the city manager, requires “prior approval or written permit” for, among other things, “parade drill, exhibition, political or religious meeting.”

Rally arrangers probably could have averted trouble by submitting a written application, but the requirement itself is of questionable constitutional validity.

If Conner’s participation in the impeachment rally had anything at all to do with his being fired, he may have grounds for complaint.

Public Defender James Orford claims County Administrator Francis Voisine attempted to pressure him into firing Czuprynski but Voisine denies it. Short of court determinations or lie detector tests, we may never know what the truth is.

The obvious test, however, is the existence and strength of the program Orford heads. If it is significantly curtailed or summarily ended, without good cause, the Orford claim will be supported.

The salary question has begged for review for years, waiting for action by the union or complaint by an employee. We have yet to see a justification for withholding, permanently, any portion of a county employes salary. It is not unusual to have a first paycheck held until employment is terminated, although that, too, is a questionable practice. But that is not what the county does — the money withheld is never paid out to the person who earned it.

Voisine’s beef against Czuprynski apparently involves not only the salary dispute but the young investigator’s role in an American Civil Liberties class-action suit against the county on behalf of Bay County jail inmates. Although Czuprynski is not a party to the suit, he did some of the investigating that led to it, following a jail break attempt last summer.

The investigation was done at Orford’s request, he says, because some of the inmates at the time were being defended by Orford’s office — Czuprynski was not hired as an ACLU investigator.

Orford subsequently decided that nothing Czuprynski discovered was grounds for action by his office. The ACLU investigation proceeded, independently, according to ACLU officials.

The public defender program is as open to evaluation and criticism as any other public program. It would be a shame, however, if it were subject to the kinds of pressures Orford claims have been out on it. It would then be a political, not a judicial program, and a weakening, not a strengthening of the right to have professional counsel.

If all we have here is a failure to communicate, or a misunderstood telephone conversation, a joint statement by Orford and Voisine might clear it up. In the absence of such a statement, however, an investigation by the county board of commissioners would be in order. Too much is at stake to just let it ride, or to chalk it off as a personality conflict or a play for headlines.

headline 2

firing dispute cooling here

As published in Section B on March 19, 1974

BAY CITY TIMES.

Public Defender James G. Orford wants to end a dispute with the county administrator although he still intends to quit his post at the end of the year because of interference in his office.

Orford says he accepts County Administrator Francis E. Voisine’s explanation that he did not ask for the firing of Edward M. Czuprynski, an investigator in the public defender’s office.

The county administrator has challenged Orford to take a lie detector test over allegations that he had asked for the firing of Czuprynski.

The Bay County Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting Monday to consider charges there was unlawful political pressure on the public defender’s office.

“I now determine from press reports that County Administrator Bud Voisine no longer contends that the March 1, 1974 telephone call was about rumors, that I had discharged my investigator, Edward Czuprynski,” said Orford in a news release.

“It was my belief then and it is my belief now that the most rational and literal interpretation of that telephone conversation was that it called for the discharge of Mr. Czuprynski.

Since I consider it now a settled matter that Mr. Czuprynski will remain during my tenure at my discretion, I will accept Mr. Voisine’s explanation at face value of what he intended to say and of what he meant in the March 1, 1974 telephone call to me. I trust that this will bring all dusputes between Mr. Voisine and myself to an end.”

Voisine said he called Orford about rumors of Czuprynski’s activities, but did not actually call for the firing of the investigator.

Voisine said today:

“If I mentioned firing him it was in the vein that if he were working for me I’d fire him. But in no way did I tell him to fire him, or anything like that. Those are his problems.”

The main question about Czuprynski concerned whether he had done work on county time in investigating for the American Civil Liberties Union in preparation for a lawsuit which has been filed against the county concerning treatment of jail prisoners, Voisine said.

PEOPLE FORUM

 “Challenged”

as published in the local section of the March 22, 1974 Bay City Times.

 Public Defender James Orford responds via a public letter about political pressure to fire Czuprynski.

I note that Mr. Voisine has challenged me to take a lie detector test. I think this must be the first time in history that the bearer of a statement is to take a lie detector test on a statement instead of the matter of the statement. It is important at this point to realize that the only thing I could be tested on is what I believe I head Mr. Voisine tell me. An approximation of the exact words here is vital. I believe that Mr. Voisine was telling me that if I didn’t fire Mr. Czuprynski now that the Board of Commissioners would not continue this project after January 1, 1975. Since I have no intention of firing Mr. Czuprynski and since I support a Public Defender program for Bay County, I had no other alternative but to resign as public defender as of January 1, 1975, in order to give the program a chance to survive.

I suggested in my resignation that my assistant, Ed Moloney, be considered as my replacement. I can assure the public and Mr. Voisine that I would not have resigned a job which I enjoy very much and which pays me $20,000 a year if I didn’t believe that Mr. Voisine was telling me to fire Mr. Czuprynski. Further, after I was appointed Public Defender I demonstrated my support for the Public Defender program and dedication to it by donating much of the assets of my former law practice to the public defender’s office, including practically the entire law library and many pieces of furniture. I now lose this by my resigning. I did this in order to reduce costs to the taxpayer and because I hoped to make the Public Defender program a success and to be in office for many years. I made no claim on my income tax for any of these donations. I simply would not have given this up if I did not believe that Mr. Voisine had told me to fire Mr. Czuprynski.

Full articles pictured below.

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