By Mike Kruzman /

Brighton City Council is requiring that their recently departed City Attorney return until the courts deem his withdrawal appropriate.

Paul Burns represented the city from 1980 until earlier this month. A letter to City Council on February 16th announced his intention, and then a second letter dated March 4th made his departure immediate. On Thursday, Brighton City Council authorized an investigation to be conducted as to an alleged incident that occurred between Burns and the City Manager that led to the initial letter.

Whether Burns left by resignation or by retirement has been debated by Council members.

Later in the meeting as a separate agenda item, Councilman Jim Bohn asked if they needed to vote to accept the most recent letter, and requested the matter be put on the agenda.

Councilman Jon Emaus is an attorney, himself, and said he has toiled with Burns’ departure. He referred to a link he sent Council citing specific rules of professional responsibility as they govern attorneys and their licenses in Michigan. Emaus said, as attorneys, they are not only expected to follow the rules but are expected to seek the rules be respected by fellow attorneys.

He read a “relevant section that governs this and us accepting an immediate withdrawal of any attorney. It says upon the termination of representation, the lawyer shall take reasonable steps to protect a client’s interests. That includes giving reasonable notice, allowing time for employment of other counsel, surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled, and refunding advance payment of fees that have not been earned.”

Emaus said he likes and has a lot of respect for Burns, “But, I, as one of 7 members of a council who’s his client, are sitting here now spinning our heads with the MTT (Michigan Tax Tribunal), with the 53rd district court, with a backlog of city staff work that is following directives from the council, and we’re swirling. And if I read those rules, we don’t have to accept his resignation or retirement or however it wants to be classified by Mr. Burns. In fact, we can demand that Mr. Burns finish his work, or at least stay on the cases that have been filed and prepped by him until new counsel is obtained- whether that’s on a short-term basis or long term. And I realize that what I’m saying out loud at this point will probably ruin any personal relationship I have with Paul, but I believe more in the ethics and rules than the personal relationship.”

Emaus said if you read further, lawyers actually need permission from the tribunals of the courts in order to withdraw so as not to leave clients “in the lurch.” The city has those upcoming responsibilities with the Tax Tribunal, the 53rd District Court, and multiple City Council items that have been tabled for lack of representation.

His motion to require Burns to continue to represent the city until the courts grant his appropriate withdrawal passed 5-2, with Councilmembers Jim Muzzin and Kris Tobbe dissenting.