DETROIT (AP) – The Michigan appeals court ordered the release Friday of the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge after a night in jail for civil contempt tied to a long-running dispute over a major construction project.
The court granted freedom for Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his top business associate, Dan Stamper, and said it would hear a full appeal of a Wayne County judge’s order that put the men behind bars.
Moroun left the county jail shortly before 6 p.m. EST, telling reporters that he felt “wonderful” and loves his family and the United States.
Moroun, 84, and Stamper, 62, were sent to jail Thursday as punishment for their company being found in contempt of court. Judge Prentis Edwards said Detroit International Bridge Co. repeatedly failed to follow his orders to work with the state of Michigan and get the Gateway Project done.
The project is supposed to connect the international bridge to area interstates and relieve truck congestion on residential streets. But eight years after construction began, the company and the Michigan Department of Transportation can’t agree on how to finish the job.
A three-judge panel at the appeals court said it would hear arguments Feb. 2 on Edwards’ extraordinary decision to put Moroun and Stamper in jail. In the meantime, that part of the ruling has been suspended.
It was the appeals court’s second look at the case. The first appeal was turned down Thursday night when attorneys for the men cited the wrong law.
In Friday’s filing, lawyers noted Moroun’s age and past health problems and said a long jail stay “could lead to grave consequences.”
The Ambassador Bridge is a major commercial link between Canada and the U.S., and the Gateway Project, which was supposed to be finished by 2008, is intended to get trucks off neighborhood streets on the U.S. side and directly onto interstates.
It is rare to put someone in jail for civil contempt _ and even more unusual to slap the punishment on someone like Moroun. Forbes magazine lists his net worth at more than $1 billion.
Though he rarely speaks in public, Moroun has become familiar to many in the Detroit area because of his family’s fierce opposition to a new bridge that would compete with the Ambassador Bridge.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, made the second span one of his top priorities when he took office last year, but the plan died in the state Senate.
Moroun also owns a well-known Detroit eyesore, an abandoned train depot and 18-story tower, built in 1913, that hasn’t seen a train since 1988. The bridge company still hopes to redevelop it just west of downtown.
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