Former U.S. Attorney Joe Hayes will be missed

By Ross Parker

Roy C. (Joe) Hayes, who served as the 45th United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan from 1986-89, died Thursday, Oct. 17. Although his contributions extended to several other venues, it is his service as a USA that stands out for those of us who were privileged to work with and for him in the federal system.

Considering the epochal changes that occurred to the federal criminal justice system during his term, Joe’s common sense and leadership provided a steady hand at the office tiller. Plus he was one of the nicest guys you could work for. His personal and professional history made a significant contribution to the rule of law in Michigan, in both the state and federal systems.

He was born June 19, 1940, in Detroit, and he grew up in the city, where his father operated an advertising and public relations business. At an early age, he was given the nickname “Joe,” and it stuck throughout his life among his friends and co-workers. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame High School in 1958, and with his strong Irish and Roman Catholic background, he naturally chose to attend the University of Notre Dame, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1962. He then went to law school at the University of Detroit, graduating in 1965.

Joe was selected in 1966 to be the editor of the “Detroit Lawyer,” the primary publication of the Detroit Bar Association. During this same time, he served as public relations counsel of the State Bar of Michigan and of the Detroit Bar Association. In 1967, a tumultuous time for the city, he became an assistant prosecuting attorney in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

He was soon assigned to a heavy schedule of trying major felony cases in one of the busiest criminal courts in the nation. He developed an expertise in trying murder, arson and fraud cases. In 1969, he left the office to be assistant director of the Crime Control Project for the American Bar Association in Chicago. The experience of working under the direction of famed trial lawyers Leon Jaworski and Edward Bennett Williams left a strong impression on him.

From 1970 until 1975, Joe headed the Wayne County Organized Crime Task Force in Detroit. As the director of the operation, he supervised a task force of prosecutors and law enforcement officers who investigated major corruption. His most important case was the 10th Precinct Police Corruption trial, which involved one of the longest trials in Michigan history.

The 9-month trial involved the first use of metal detectors in a Michigan courtroom. The case resulted in the conviction of fourteen police officers and six drug traffickers.

In January 1976, he left the task force to accept the appointment as Charlevoix County prosecuting attorney. In 1978 he formed the law firm of Hayes and Beatly in Charlevoix and for seven years engaged in a diverse legal practice, which he left in 1986 to become United States Attorney.

Few USAs have managed the changes and challenges Joe faced in his term. The biggest of these was probably the Sentencing Reform Act, which caused one of the most important changes in the federal criminal justice system in the 20th century. Under the prior “indeterminate” sentencing system, there were almost no limitations on the range of sentences a judge could impose for a particular offense committed by a particular defendant. The result was a wide disparity of sentences for similarly situated defendants. The other complaint about this system was that defendants were eligible for parole after serving only one-third of their sentence. That fact plus a generous good time system made the actual time served by an offender impossible to predict until his or her release on parole.

The Sentencing Guidelines system tried to avoid disparity, uncertainty and unfairness by requiring judges to impose sentences within a narrow range. The Sentencing Commission developed a time grid based on the category of the offense and the criminal record of the offender. The defendant would serve “real time” sentences, minus the prescribed good time allowance. Parole was replaced by a mandatory period of supervised release tacked on after an inmate left prison. Although it had several important benefits, the system was incredibly complicated and many practitioners predicted disastrous chaos. Plus, mandatory minimums could be indiscriminately harsh. AUSAs faced criticism for the new system on a daily basis.

Joe’s patience and encouragement got us through a challenging time of adjustment.

Another development in sentencing was the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988. Eventually, Congress would enact statutes making murders occurring during kidnapping, use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, a bank robbery, or child molestation as capital crimes. Since Michigan had no death penalty, some of us were queasy about being thrust
into these cases, but Joe’s predictions about its infrequency and limitations proved to be correct.

Joe was one of the few USAs in the district to assume the office without prior federal criminal experience. Some thought this would be a serious handicap, but his wide background, experience as a litigator, and quiet confidence made him a quick learner, and his perspective frequently provided a fresh look at old problems.

Much of Joe’s time as United States Attorney was spent in developing policy and procedures for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. As the Core City U.S. Attorney, he had oversight responsibility for investigations and prosecutions in the Great Lakes Region, which consisted of nine federal districts. He was also chosen by the attorney general to serve on the Economic Crime Council, the White Collar Crime and Public Corruption Subcommittees. He was also a member of the National Drug Policy Board’s Prosecution Subcommittee.

Joe had extensive experience as a state prosecutor, as well as running a law practice in Charlevoix. These experiences pointed out the importance to him of well-staffed branch offices in the United States Attorney’s Office. He took several steps to strengthen those offices in Flint and Bay City and made sure those staff members knew they were not the office’s step children. Consequently both offices were able to maintain a high volume of widely diverse criminal and civil litigation.

Joe himself led the prosecution of the Chambers Brothers Gang, which had one of the most extensive operations of crack cocaine houses in the country. The four brothers moved from Marianna, Arkansas, to Detroit and came to control about 300 crack houses during the period of 1983-1988. They employed strict business practices by establishing high volume retail outlets, quality control and a trained work force. The operation made a profit of $1 million per week, and the brothers maintained a luxurious life style. They controlled their territory and their 500 employees by violence and intimidation. The leaders were so well insulated that state prosecutions had proved impossible. In 1986, a state-federal task force was formed that combined aggressive search warrant executions and arrests with a historical grand jury investigation, and in February, 1988, 22 members of the gang were indicted. During the 7-week trial, the prosecution team presented dozens of witnesses who testified as to the details of the operation. All of the defendants were convicted and received lengthy prison sentences.

One of the most important prosecutions of the office initiated during Joe’s term was Operation Brahman, an investigation of corruption in the Detroit court system. A local store owner of the Broadway Market in downtown Detroit reported to the FBI that he had been solicited by several state judges and lawyers for bribes to affect the disposition of state court cases. The FBI installed elaborate video and audio recording devices in the store and recorded hours of meetings with local officials. An undercover FBI agent was “arrested” and went through the Detroit jails and court system to determine if bribe offers were made by corrupt officials. After a two-year investigation, two Detroit Recorders Court judges, one 36th District Court, an assistant prosecuting attorney, as well as several clerks and other individuals were convicted and received jail sentences.

Other high profile cases, like the Kozminski involuntary servitude case at an Ann Arbor dairy farm, and the largest drug seizure in Michigan history (576 kilos of cocaine and 17,000 pounds of marijuana at Grosse Ile Airport), were almost daily occurrences. But Joe had fun amid the pressure, and he helped the rest of us have fun as well. I remember the ribbing we gave him when MSU beat Notre Dame in football in 1987, but he repaid us in full when the Domers beat the Spartans the remaining three years of his term.

Family responsibilities were always important to Joe, and he urged his staff to maintain an active presence in their children’s lives. He kept a photograph of his wife Jacquie and his son and daughter, Joe III and Amy, on his desk and more than once he urged AUSAs to remember who they really worked for. His love of his family, unabashed patriotism, and management by walking around, taught us all some important lessons that lasted well beyond his term. He will be missed.
Ross Parker is author of the book “Carving Out the Rule of Law: The History of the United States Attorney’s Office in Eastern Michigan 1815-2008.”