Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 24, 2013

Police want county to pay for fees tied to suit

BY ART BUKOWSKI abukowski@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County’s top law enforcement officials want the county’s law firm to cover about $10,000 in personal attorney fees tied to a protracted federal lawsuit.

A federal judge could soon decide whether Livonia-based Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho — or an attorney who used to work for that firm — should cover attorney fees incurred by Leelanau County Prosecutor Joe Hubbell and his chief assistant Doug Donaldson. They hired an attorney to represent them when they were pulled into a long-running lawsuit filed by a group of deputies against former Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf and Undersheriff Scott Wooters.

The suit, settled in the deputies’ favor in October for $625,000, stemmed 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.

An attorney for the deputies wanted to use Hubbell and Donaldson as witnesses, but former Cummings McClorey attorney Christopher Cooke, who represented the county, sent them a letter that appeared to threaten the prosecutors against testifying. Cooke’s letter strongly suggested Donaldson and Hubbell acted unethically, and they thought it wise to retain counsel.

“When they received that letter, it caused them major concern,” said their attorney, Bill Ewald. “As the old adage goes, he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

Hubbell and Donaldson, who declined comment for this story, likely wouldn’t have had to hire an attorney if not for the threatening nature of Cooke’s letter, Ewald said. Cooke could not be reached for comment. A motion previously filed by Cooke and another attorney on behalf of Cummings McClorey called the request for attorney fees “frivolous.”

Ewald said he requested an oral argument in front of U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff. She could grant that request, or make a decision based on briefs from both sides filed with the court. It is not known when a decision will be made.