SUTTONS BAY — An attorney who represents Leelanau County must explain why he sent a "threatening" letter to county prosecutors about their testimony in a long-running federal lawsuit.
Christopher Cooke is an attorney for Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, a firm defending the county, Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf and Undersheriff Scott Wooters against a federal lawsuit filed in 2009 by a group of sheriff's deputies.
U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff, who is presiding over the case, set a hearing for Tuesday to discuss a letter Cooke recently sent to Leelanau Prosecutor Joseph Hubbell and Assistant Prosecutor Doug Donaldson.
Cooke must "explain why he wrote the letter and ... show cause why the letter does not present grounds under the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct compelling his removal from this case," Neff's order reads.
The suit stems from allegations that Oltersdorf and Wooters listened to conversations on what employees believed to be private lines at the sheriff's department in several instances dating to 2006. It alleges invasion of privacy and a violation of wire-tapping laws, among other counts.
Mike Dettmer, an attorney for the deputies, wanted to use Hubbell and Donaldson as witnesses during trial, which was set to begin next week. Dettmer said Cooke's letter could be considered "witness intimidation" because it appears to direct Hubbell and Donaldson to either not testify or reconsider their testimony.
Neff indefinitely postponed the trial until the letter issue is settled.
Cooke wouldn't say what he intended to imply with the letter, and said it's a matter between himself and the court.
"I'm not going to be drawn into a statement," he told a Record-Eagle reporter.
Dettmer said it appears Cooke suggests Hubbell and Donaldson would violate attorney-client privilege if they testified, since they are county employees and Cooke represents the county.
"I would respectfully say he's wrong about that," Dettmer said. "From the plaintiff's standpoint, we believe it's chilling on our right to a fair trial. We have the right to present witnesses."
Donaldson and Hubbell declined to comment.
The Leelanau County board of commissioners will hear an update from Cooke on Friday morning, board Chairman Tom Van Pelt said. Van Pelt expects Cooke to say whether or not he expects to be tossed from the case.
"We have our concerns that we're so far along in this that if we lose representation, all it will do is delay this," Van Pelt said.