Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 20, 2013

Ex-Meijer lawyer faces complaint

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

— TRAVERSE CITY — A former attorney for Meijer Corp. faces a formal complaint contending he lied under oath about the big box retailer’s role in an Acme Township election and referendum.

The Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission filed the complaint March 5 against Grand Rapids-based attorney Timothy Stoepker of the law firm Dickinson Wright. The commission, which enforces attorney conduct rules in Michigan, contends Stoepker was not truthful when asked during a 2007 deposition about his knowledge of Meijer’s political activities in Acme, where Meijer is pursuing a large retail store off M-72.

“I have no knowledge,” Stoepker said twice during the deposition when asked about Meijer’s work to impact local elections.

But according to the commission’s complaint, Stoepker did know about Meijer’s political work in Acme. From 2005 to 2007, the commission said Stoepker provided legal representation to Meijer for a local referendum vote and a recall election in Acme Township. The commission also said Stoepker contracted with a local public relations firm to provide services regarding the attempted recall of local officials.

“We are alleging that (his testimony) was not true or (was) misleading,” said Robert E. Edick, deputy administrator for the attorney grievance commission. “It violates the rules of professional conduct.”

Stoepker did not respond to both a phone and e-mail request for comment. Meijer, which dismissed Stoepker as its attorney years ago, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Stoepker can dispute the allegations in front of a panel of three attorneys in a hearing scheduled for April 30 in Grand Rapids. If the commission finds Stoepker violated Michigan’s rules for attorney conduct, the punishment could range from a reprimand to a suspension of the lawyer’s license.

A Detroit attorney, Matthew Abel, filed the complaint against Stoepker with the commission nearly five years ago after reading a Record-Eagle article about the dispute in Acme Township. Abel said Tuesday he filed the complaint because “this seemed to me to be a substantial violation.”

Meijer’s oft-contentious project in Acme started in 2004 and spanned years of lawsuits and criminal probes of Meijer for campaign finance violations. The corporation eventually gained Acme Township approval for a 214,000-square-foot Meijer store that will anchor about 1 million square feet of retail and commercial development, plus more than 700,000 square feet of housing on more than 180 acres.

Meijer acknowledged in 2008 it violated state law when it secretly spent more than $100,000 on lawyers and a public relations firm to fight a 2005 township referendum and to support a 2007 effort to recall the township board because of board members’ opposition to the store. Meijer’s illegal spending was unearthed during legal proceedings tied to a lawsuit against Meijer by former Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres. He sued and obtained a settlement from Meijer for malicious prosecution after Meijer sued Boltres and other Acme officials.

Boltres’ attorney, Grant Parsons, conducted the deposition of Stoepker. Parsons declined comment on the complaint against Stoepker other than to say the day of the deposition “was a very interesting day.”

“It’s going to be interesting for the public to see what comes out of this,” Parsons said.