Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 29, 2011

Ex-Meijer lawyer won't be charged

BY ART BUKOWSKI
abukowski@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — A downstate prosecutor said he can't prove a former Meijer Inc. lawyer lied under oath during proceedings for a local official's lawsuit against the retail giant.

Kent County Prosecutor William A. Forsyth won't issue a perjury charge against former Meijer attorney Timothy Stoepker of Dickinson Wright PLLC in Grand Rapids. Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Al Schneider asked Forsyth to investigate because the incident occurred during a deposition in Kent County in 2007.

Forsyth said there's not enough evidence Stoepker committed perjury, especially since questions that prompted the alleged perjury were "ambiguous, compound and imprecise."

"Although ... questions were perfectly legitimate, their ambiguity eliminates the possibility of proving perjury beyond a reasonable doubt," Forsyth wrote in a statement. "As such, we decline to authorize charges or to conduct any further investigation."

Schneider didn't argue with Forysth's decision.

"I'm not surprised. It's a reasonable response," Schneider said. "The questions were not artfully put to the witness, and the prosecutor's last remark was that the ambiguity and imprecision would not lead to proof beyond a reasonable doubt ... that's a reasonable assessment."

Former Acme Township Treasurer Bill Boltres filed a harassment suit against Meijer in 2007 after the retailer sued him and other Acme officials for opposing a proposed new store on M-72 in the township.

The suit revealed that Meijer hired a public relations firm to run a secret and illegal campaign to recall the Acme Township board in 2007, and earlier spent money to sway a 2005 referendum election.

Stoepker testified under oath in a videotaped deposition in Boltres' suit that he had no knowledge of Meijer's involvement in the 2005 election.

Stoepker answered: "I have no knowledge of that at all" when asked "Can you tell me how big a role Meijer took in the election, the referendum, or the moratorium or election up there?"

Documents that arose during the suit indicated Stoepker was aware of the plan, Schneider said, and a witness later confirmed Stoepker's involvement.

Forsyth contends "big," "role," and other parts of the question are too ambiguous, and said the same of another question asked of Stoepker about what contributions Meijer made to local political supporters.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip E. Rodgers, the judge who oversaw all litigation between Meijer and Acme Township officials, filed a complaint with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission alleging that Stoepker lied. He still believes that, regardless of Forsyth's decision.

"Mr. Stoepker is a highly experienced and very sophisticated litigator, and he apparently was not confused, as he knows of his right to ask for clarification," Rodgers said. "It is my opinion, and that is why I referred this to the Attorney Grievance Commission, that he well understood the question and gave a false answer."

Neither Stoepker nor his attorney, Cadillac-based Roger Wotila, returned calls for comment.

Denny Rohn is president of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, a group that opposed Meijer's development plans. She isn't happy with Forsyth's decision.

"I am absolutely disgusted that the prosecutor is going to drop this," she said. "If our system continues to condone illegal behavior and lies, the prosecutor should be ashamed."

Meijer eventually paid more than $4.2 million to settle lawsuits filed by former and current township officials, and Meijer paid a $190,000 fine to the Michigan Secretary of State for its admitted violation of campaign-finance laws tied to Acme elections.