Traverse City Record-Eagle

Meijer-Acme Township Dispute

September 16, 2010

Meijer paid $2 million to Acme Treasurer

Documents were filed as part of an insurance dispute

TRAVERSE CITY — Meijer Inc. paid former Acme Township Treasurer Bill Boltres $2 million to settle a 2007 lawsuit, according to documents the retailer filed in 13th Circuit Court.

In doing so, Meijer may have violated a confidentiality clause it adhered to for years. Its attorneys recently detailed the Boltres payment in court documents filed as part of an insurance dispute.

Those documents include several references that confirm the Grand Rapids-area retailer settled with Boltres for $2 million in December 2007. Documents previously filed by one of Meijer's insurers showed the lawsuit cost Meijer at least $2 million, but left open the possibility it didn't all go to Boltres.

The disclosure surprised Boltres' attorney, who sued Meijer for malicious prosecution in April 2007, a move that subsequently pried the lid off Meijer's illegal efforts to manipulate 2005 and 2007 elections in Acme Township.

"If Meijer has filed documents in the public court record making this extremely confidential Boltres settlement public, I'm truly shocked," said Traverse City attorney Grant Parsons, who represented Boltres in lawsuits against Meijer and its development partner, the Village of Grand Traverse.

"The amount of court and legal resources that went into making that confidential are truly staggering," Parsons said. "But until I know more about what they've done, I'm not going to publicly breach that document."

It's unclear if the documents intentionally or accidentally were released by attorneys John Pirich and Kenneth Brooks, of the Lansing firm of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn LLP. Neither returned phone messages left with their office Wednesday.

Meijer and The Village at Grand Traverse LLC individually sued several Acme Township officials in mid-decade during a contentious zoning dispute over a proposed superstore along M-72. Boltres responded with a suit against Meijer for malicious prosecution.

Boltres filed a similar suit against the Village in 2008. Meijer intervened, and used the confidentiality agreement to force Boltres to accept another settlement that prevented Parsons from further delving into who at Meijer authorized its illegal acts in the township elections.

Meijer threatened to invoke significant financial penalties called for in the 2007 settlement if Boltres revealed its terms. Boltres' suit against the Village required him to do just that, however, and prompted him to agree to a confidential deal with the Village.

Parsons would not say if he planned to pursue an action against Meijer for disclosing the settlement figure.

Traverse City attorney Mike Dettmer, who represented five other township officials in a separate suit against Meijer, said Boltres may have a case.

"If they were negligent in the disclosure of material, there well may be a cause of action under Boltres," Dettmer said.

The Boltres case resurfaced in Grand Traverse County because New York-based American Home Assurance in June sued Meijer. The insurer contends it's not liable for more than $2.1 million in lawsuit settlements that stemmed from Meijer's illegal campaign efforts in Acme Township.

Meijer then filed counter-claims in 13th Circuit Court against American Home and two other insurance companies. Those allegations were filed under seal, weren't available for public inspection, and Meijer asked a judge to seal all pleadings regarding confidential matters.

"Meijer faces a real and imminent danger of irreparable injury from public dissemination of information that is confidential not only as to Meijer, but as to third parties," Meijer's attorneys wrote in briefs.

Last month, 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers said most of the court proceedings were to remain public, but added that the parties could not release details of Boltres' settlement and a separate settlement with an unnamed township official.

Court documents reviewed by the Record-Eagle include several letters from American Home to Meijer's in-house attorney that referenced the settlement amounts.

"It is our understanding Meijer subsequently agreed to a settlement for the Boltres lawsuit in the amount of $2 million," one letter said. A second letter cites insurance provider Discover Re's contention its coverage had "been exhausted by Meijer's $2 million settlement of the Boltres lawsuit."

Several of those letters were included in American Home's original complaint, but American Home attorneys redacted all references to $2 million.

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