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January 25, 2012

Judge to decide on attorney's removal

SUTTONS BAY — A judge still hasn't decided whether to remove a local attorney from a long-running federal lawsuit.

Christopher Cooke is defending Leelanau Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf, Undersheriff Scott Wooters and the county in a lawsuit filed by a group of Leelanau sheriff's deputies in March 2009. The lawsuit alleges invasion of privacy and other counts.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet T. Neff on Monday discussed a "threatening" Aug. 15 letter Cooke sent to Leelanau Prosecutor Joseph Hubbell and Assistant Prosecutor Doug Donaldson.

The letter appears to instruct Donaldson and Hubbell to alter or avoid testimony in the lawsuit, and Neff is trying to determine if Cooke should be removed from the case because of the letter and other reasons put forth by attorneys for the deputies.

Donaldson and Hubbell were present for the Monday hearing but weren't given a chance to share their thoughts on the matter, Hubbell said.

Hubbell wanted to discuss the letter during Monday's hearing, but said the hearing primarily covered other motions.

"I was hoping to testify. There were allegations made in the letter ... that were not true," he said. "I felt it was inappropriate, and I took great offense to receiving it."

The letter, aside from instructing Donaldson and Hubbell to "reconsider (their) statements and actions related to this litigation," appeared to suggest the prosecutors had violated ethics rules.

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 on several occasions dating to 2006. It alleges invasion of privacy and a violation of wiretapping laws, among other counts.

A trial was set for late last year after several delays, but Neff delayed it again to address her concerns with Cooke's letter. She is set to discuss the letter on Feb. 1 and could make a decision then, Hubbell said, though Hubbell and Donaldson aren't required to be at that hearing.

Cooke didn't return a call for comment Tuesday.

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