Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 19, 2012

Leelanau County settles 2009 lawsuit brought by deputies

SUTTONS BAY — A settlement agreement that ended a long-running and acrimonious lawsuit against top Leelanau County sheriff's officials will be public in a matter of weeks, authorities said.

Leelanau County's Board of Commissioners recently voted to settle a federal lawsuit filed against the county, Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf and Undersheriff Scott Wooters by a group of deputies in 2009. The deputies accused Oltersdorf and Wooters of eavesdropping, among other misconduct.

County officials won't reveal settlement terms, but county Administrator Chet Janik said financial and other details will be available once attorneys file the final agreement with court.

"That document will be public," he said. "I'm guessing it will probably be about six weeks."

The board voted 5-1 to accept the settlement, with Melinda Lautner dissenting and David Marshall absent.

Janik said the county is happy to finally close the doors on the suit.

"Everyone is glad it's been resolved," Janik said. "It's been a long process for all sides, and it's caused tremendous stress on all sides."

Lautner said she believed settling was a "disservice" to the county.

"My vote, I thought, was in the best interest of not only my constituents, but all of the taxpayers," she said. "There's just a lot of information we received in closed session that the public was not aware of that would have come to light had it gone to trial."

Trial was scheduled to start next week, and Janik said the county's insurance company advised the county to settle, rather than risk losing at trial.

"It was a very difficult choice for commissioners, as they have some strong feelings about it," 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 and Wooters both declined comment. Mike Dettmer, an attorney for the deputies, also declined comment.

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