Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 4, 2013

Ex-Meijer attorney contests complaint

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

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A former attorney for Meijer Corp. disputed allegations he lied under oath about his knowledge of the corporation’s political activities in Acme.

Attorneys for Grand Rapids-based lawyer Timothy Stoepker said a complaint filed against Stoepker by state regulators that alleges he lied under oath during a 2007 deposition is based on “vague references” and a campaign finance law that’s since been deemed unconstitutional.

“The ... complaint against attorney Timothy Stoepker is deficient, both legally and factually, and must be dismissed,” Stoepker’s attorneys wrote in a court filing.

An administrator with the state agency that filed the complaint disagreed.

The complaint against Stoepker stems from his representation of Meijer during a long and contentious fight over a retail store off M-72 in Acme Township. Meijer eventually acknowledged in 2008 that it violated state campaign finance law.

The corporation admitted secretly spending more than $100,000 on lawyers and a public relations firm to fight a 2005 township referendum, and also to support a 2007 effort to recall the township board because of board members’ store opposition.

Stoepker represented Meijer during those efforts. He also was involved in filing lawsuits against township officials, one of whom in turn sued Meijer. The latter suit prompted a 2007 civil deposition of Stoepker, during which Stoepker twice said under oath he had “no knowledge” of Meijer’s work to impact local elections.

That testimony was false, the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission contends. The commission filed a complaint against Stoepker in March, and said he contracted with a public relations firm to help recall Acme leaders, and that Stoepker represented Meijer on the referendum and recall election.

Stoepker’s attorneys said the complaint is invalid because it relies in part on the provisions of a Michigan campaign finance law that since was deemed unconstitutional.

“An unconstitutional law is void, which means it must be treated as if it were never enacted in the first place,” Stoepker’s attorneys said.

But Robert Edick, deputy administrator for the attorney grievance commission, said Stoepker can be held accountable.

“A lawyer has to obey the law, which would seem somewhat self-evident,” Edick said. “The fact that the law might later be held unconstitutional doesn’t mean they are free to disregard it before then.

“Lawyers have certain obligations that non-lawyers don’t in how they conduct themselves,” Edick said. “You don’t get a free pass if you commit an act that violates a criminal law even if it just so happens that down the road, the law gets overturned.”

Phone messages left with Stoepker and one of his attorneys, Donald Campbell, were not returned.