2012-10-18 / Front Page

Settled

County, deputies agree to terms
By Eric Carlson Of The Enterprise staff

After more than three years of bitter litigation, a federal lawsuit filed by four deputies against Sheriff Michael Oltersdorf, Undersheriff Scott Wooters and Leelanau County has been settled out of court.

A 12-day jury trial was slated to begin Tuesday in a federal courthouse in Grand Rapids.

On Friday afternoon, however, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners approved a confi dential settlement agreement that attorneys for both sides drafted last week.

The County Board’s deliberations on the settlement agreement were held during a 90-minute closed session as allowed under the state Open Meetings Act. Acting in open session, the board voted 5-1 to approve the agreement. District No. 7 commissioner Melinda Lautner was opposed and District No. 6 commissioner David Marshall was absent.

The county’s lead attorney, Christopher Cooke, said he was unable to provide information about the settlement because of a strict confidentiality agreement between the parties. He said additional information will be forthcoming in January when attorneys have been ordered to file documents in federal court closing the case. He said a dollar amount associated with the settlement would be made public at that time.

Following Friday’s special meeting, Leelanau County administrator Chet Janik said the county’s insurance carrier played a major role in recommending the settlement agreement. Had the county turned down the settlement agreement, it would have been responsible for costs above the agreement amount should the deputies prevail.

Attorney Cooke and his law firm, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, were retained by the county’s insurance carrier, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMR MA).

“Although I’ve only been here a short while, it’s clear that this case has taken a huge emotional toll on everyone involved,” Janik said. “At this point we’re not in a position to talk about the terms of the settlement agreement, but we are confident the Sheriff’s Office and the county will be able to move forward now with this behind us.”

By the time additional information about the settlement agreement is released in January, Sheriff Michael Oltersdorf will have retired and the presumptive new sheriff Michael Borkovich will have been sworn in.

Both Sheriff Oltersdorf and Undersheriff Wooters declined to make any public comment on the settlement agreement, citing confidentiality requirements.

Similarly, the plaintiffs in the case said they could not comment. Former Sgt. Michael Lamb could not be reached for comment. The three other plaintiffs, Sgt. James Kiessel, Deputy Mike Bankey and Deputy Duane Wright, referred a reporter to their attorneys.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Mike Dettmer, issued the following statement:

“1. The lawsuit is a matter of public record. 2. There is no admission of liability. 3. We (the plaintiffs) are satisfied with the resolution,” Dettmer wrote in an email reply to a newspaper reporter’s query.

Another attorney representing the plaintiffs, longtime Leelanau County resident Bill Rastetter, was in attendance at last Friday’s county board meeting during which the decision to approve the settlement agreement was made.

Speaking during a public comment opportunity at the end of the meeting, Rastetter said:

“I’m reminded of President Ford’s remarks upon taking office after Nixon resigned: ‘Our long national nightmare is over.’” Rastetter said.

In an email to a reporter, Rastetter added: “This episode has been our county’s nightmare for four and a half years; and it’s long past time for everyone to move beyond positions that had been asserted by outside lawyers on behalf of the county government that adversely affected these sheriff’s deputies and the prosecutor (all county residents) who throughout this time remained dedicated public servants.”

With the exception of Lamb, who claimed disability due to psychological stress when he stopped working in the Sheriff’s office in May 2009, the three other plaintiffs – Sgt. Kiessel, Deputy Bankey and Deputy Wright – remain employed in the Sheriff’s office.

The deputies alleged that in 2008 the sheriff and undersheriff unlawfully recorded and listened to phone calls deputies believed were “private” on government phone lines in the county Law Enforcement Center during duty hours. The deputies also allege that their civil rights were violated when the sheriff disciplined them after they spoke out against him, and that their union activities were unlawfully interfered with.

The sheriff, undersheriff and county government denied any wrongdoing and asserted that the deputies were well aware that there should be no expectation of privacy on government phone lines in the county Law Enforcement Center. The defendants also denied any wrongdoing in actions they took after the plaintiffs accused the sheriff of illegal wiretapping.

Return to top