| DETROIT, Sept 3
DETROIT, Sept 3 A federal bankruptcy judge has
ordered Detroit and civil rights attorneys into two weeks of
confidential mediation over the city's practice of shutting off
water to residents with unpaid bills.
Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will announce on
Sept. 17 whether he will issue a temporary restraining order on
Detroit's controversial attempt to reduce its $90 million
backlog of unpaid water bills, according to an order signed on
Tuesday and publicly released on Wednesday.
Until then, the court's chief judge, Phillip Shefferly, will
mediate negotiations with the bankrupt city and those who filed
a class action to stop the city from cutting off water access to
The Motor City received international criticism this summer
when it halted service to residents who were months behind or
owed thousands of dollars on their water bills. It then put in
place a one-month moratorium on shutoffs and introduced payment
The moratorium ended last week and cutoffs resumed.
Rhodes is currently holding a confirmation hearing on
Detroit's plan to exit its historic bankruptcy.
Attorney Alice Jennings - who is leading the class action -
asked him to stop the shutoffs until she could present evidence
at a hearing on their health and social implications.
"There's going to be a potential for imminent harm," she
told the judge, noting some Detroit residents with medical
issues could be in danger and parents could lose custody of
their children due to lack of water in their homes.
Jennings added customers were not receiving adequate
information from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department on
how to keep their water flowing.
"The city of Detroit needs to get its stuff together,"
Timothy Fusco, an attorney at Miller Canfield representing
the city, argued the request for a restraining order was beyond
the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and if granted
would be the "most far-reaching TRO issued in a Chapter 9"
(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago and Lisa
Lambert in Washington; editing by Matthew Lewis)