TRAVERSE CITY -- Denny Rohn believes her neighbors in Acme Township should know all that representatives of Meijer Inc. and other developers did against township officials and others who opposed their plans along M-72.
But Rohn, president of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, and the public may never know.
Acme Township officials who sued the Grand Rapids-based retail chain, developer the Village at Grand Traverse LLC and their former attorneys, Dickinson Wright PLLC and Timothy Stoepker, agreed to a tentative settlement that's sealed in the court file of the protracted legal dispute.
"Obviously Meijer does not want the story told," Rohn said. "I'm disappointed that Meijer is so adamant that they do not want people to know what they did."
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip E. Rodgers issued an order dated Thursday suspending the lawsuit because of the pending settlement. The suit was filed in 2008 by township trustees Erick Takayama, Frank Zarafonitis, Ron Harden and township planning commissioners Robert Carstens and Clare David. They accused Meijer, the Village, and their former attorneys of malicious prosecution and abuse of court process.
"The attorneys told me last week they had been through facilitated mediation and had come to a global resolution involving all of the parties," Rodgers said Monday. "I haven't seen the agreement ... but there is a sealed copy on file with the court."
The suit alleged that Meijer, the Village, and their attorneys intentionally harmed township officials through a frivolous lawsuit, illegal campaign activity and secret financial support of a citizens group that harassed township officials. Meijer and the Village were seeking to build a large, disputed development along M-72.
The plaintiff's attorney, Michael Dettmer, said he intended to take statements under oath from Meijer president Mark Murray and company board co-chairman Hank Meijer. Both issued public statements indicating they were unaware of Meijer's illegal efforts to influence Acme elections in 2005 and 2007.
Neither was deposed under oath. Attorneys for Meijer and Dickinson Wright filed several appeals that delayed the lawsuit and stopped discovery, a process to compel testimony and the production of documents in a lawsuit.
With most of the appeals cleared away, the discovery process recently started again before the case was settled. The parties have asked the court for sixty days to finalize some details.
Terms of the settlement are sealed and may remain confidential after it is finalized.
Attorneys for all parties either declined comment or did not return phone calls Monday. Meijer also did not respond.
Village managing partner Steve Smith said he had no comment but added, "I'll be happy to talk to you when I can."
Others suspect details of the settlement will eventually come to light. Paul Brink, a member of CCAT, said he'd be surprised if the agreement stays confidential very long.
"I would think the township officials would want to make it public," Brink said. "I hope they make it public so the whole story comes out."
Several of the township officials previously said they were continuing legal action to hold individuals at Meijer, Dickinson Wright and the Village accountable for their actions.
"Something has to be done to shed some light on all of the perpetrators, to see that justice is enforced," Carstens said when the lawsuit was filed. He did not return messages left at his home Monday seeking comment.
Neither Rohn nor Brink were critical of township officials for settling the suit.
"I don't know what the settlement was and I assume they did what they thought they needed to do," Rohn said.
The settlement does not affect a companion lawsuit filed by former Acme Township Treasurer Bill Boltres against the Village. Boltres sued Meijer in 2007 and uncovered the company's campaign finance violations in its attempt to recall the entire township board two years ago. Meijer acknowledged it was also involved in a 2005 local referendum and paid a fine of more than $190,000 to the state. Meijer settled its case with Boltres.
Boltres' attorney Grant Parsons said he was shocked by news of the settlement in the other cases.
"I thought this was going to be World War III," Parsons said. "I guess Bill (Boltres) is all alone again."
Events in the Village/Meijer dispute in Acme Township
-- August 2004 -- Township board swept from office in primary by candidates opposed to the Village at Grand Traverse, a 2.4-million-square-foot commercial and mixed-use development to include a Meijer store. Outgoing board approved permit for the project.
-- October 2004 -- Concerned Citizens of Acme Township filed suit against the township to stop the Village at Grand Traverse.
-- January 2005 -- Meijer and Village at Grand Traverse developers intervened in lawsuit, counter-sued new township board. Meijer submitted permit application for Lautner Commons, a Meijer development adjacent to proposed Village at Grand Traverse.
-- July 2005 -- Circuit court overturned prior board's approval of Village at Grand Traverse; developers and Meijer appealed.
-- August 2005 -- Voters rejected temporary big-box store moratorium by a 907 to 900 margin.
-- June 2006 -- Meijer filed suit in circuit court over Lautner Commons, alleging the township's conditions were illegal and unconstitutional.
-- November 2006 -- Recall petition signatures submitted.
-- February 2007 -- Circuit court judge threw out personal lawsuits against township officials. Township board captured 58 percent of vote to fend off recall.
-- April 2007 -- Acme Township Treasurer William Boltres sued Meijer for harassment.
-- August 2007 -- Township supervisor Bill Kurtz resigned, cited stress from Meijer lawsuits.
-- September 2007 -- Michigan Court of Appeals overturned circuit court, ruled former board's approval of Village at Grand Traverse project legal. Personal lawsuits against township board members reinstated.
-- November 2007 -- Mediation panel recommends Meijer pay Boltres $3 million to settle his suit.
-- December 2007 -- Meijer withdraws last of personal lawsuits against township officials. Boltres attorney Grant Parson releases subpoenaed documents indicating Meijer's financial involvement in recall election. Meijer settles Boltres lawsuit.
-- January 2008 -- Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider asks state police to investigate Meijer's role in recall election. Boltres files lawsuit against Village at Grand Traverse.
-- April 2008 -- Circuit court judge rules only the Michigan Secretary of State and Attorney General can investigate campaign finance violations, ending Schneider's probe.
-- May 2008 -- Schneider appeals campaign finance ruling. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land announced Meijer must pay $190,000 in fines for illegal campaign activity in two township elections. Robert Carstens, township planning commissioner, files a motion to overturn settlement of original lawsuit.
-- June 2008 -- Circuit court grants Carstens' motion.
-- August 2008 -- Carstens names Meijer, the Village at Grand Traverse, and their former attorneys, Timothy Stoepker and Dickinson Wright PLLC in lawsuit. Dickinson Wright alleges 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip E. Rodgers is biased, filed motion to have him to step aside. Meijer seeks emergency appeal of Rodgers ruling to overturn settlement. Appeal is denied.
-- September 2008 -- Rodgers denied Dickinson Wright recusal motion. Dickinson Wright appealed to Circuit Court Judge James Batzer, who also denied appeal.
-- November 2008 -- Village files motion asking Rodgers to dismiss Boltres lawsuit.
-- February 2009 -- Rodgers denies motion to dismiss Boltres lawsuit. Discovery begins.
-- March 2009 -- Acme officials' suit against Meijer and the Village halted through sealed settlement.