Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 28, 2012

Leelanau settlement amount available in Jan.

Deputies accused sheriff, undersheriff of eavesdropping

SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County residents must wait until January to find out how much it cost to settle a long-running, acrimonious lawsuit filed by a group of sheriff's deputies, and some settlement details will remain permanently confidential.

The county's board of commissioners in October voted to settle a group of deputies' 2009 federal lawsuit against the county, Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf and Undersheriff Scott Wooters. The deputies accused Oltersdorf and Wooters of eavesdropping, among other misconduct.

Mike Dettmer, an attorney for the deputies, said all parties signed a formal settlement agreement and are in the process of implementing the terms of the agreement. Once terms are implemented, U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff will sign off on the agreement and it will become public, he said.

That's not expected to be until sometime in January, Dettmer said. The dollar amount paid to settle the lawsuit will be public, but all sides agreed that certain settlement terms will remain permanently under wraps.

"There isn't anything confidential that costs any money," Dettmer said.

County Commissioner Melinda Lautner, who voted against the settlement, is frustrated that it's not yet public.

"I think it is imperative that we get any information out to the public as soon as we possibly can," she said. "I'm disappointed that it isn't out there yet. I don't know what the delay is."

She's also not pleased that some elements apparently won't be disclosed.

"I just think it would be better for the public to know everything that's going on," she said.

Oltersdorf wouldn't comment on the settlement, other than to point out that it won't come out of the county's general fund.

"The important thing for everyone to remember is that comes from the insurance company and not the taxpayers of Leelanau County," he said.

County Administrator Chet Janik said that is indeed the case, though the county "most likely" will see its insurance premiums rise because of the lawsuit.

"How much, I couldn't tell you," he said.

Janik said he didn't know what settlement details are intended to remain non-public.

"I'm not aware of any major secret issues," he said.

The suit stems from allegations that Oltersdorf and Wooters illegally listened to conversations on what employees believed to be private lines at the sheriff's department on several occasions dating to 2006. Sheriff's administrators then retaliated against employees who publicly criticized the practice, the suit alleged.

Oltersdorf didn't run again and will be replaced by Mike Borkovich, who takes office in January.

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