Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

December 21, 2013

Newsmakers: Leelanau ends four-year lawsuit

EDITOR’S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.

SUTTONS BAY — A long-running federal lawsuit against Leelanau County’s former top sheriff’s department officials ended quietly, with four sheriff’s deputies splitting a $625,000 settlement, a deal that spared the public the acrimony that defined its four-year run.

“I think it’s a fair statement that all sides agree that everyone was glad to close this chapter and move on,” said county Administrator Chet Janik. “We have a new sheriff and it’s a fresh start.”

In 2009, Leelanau County sheriff’s deputies Jim Kiessel, Michael Bankey and Duane Wright and former deputy Michael Lamb filed a lawsuit against former Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf and former Undersheriff Scott Wooters. The suit claimed 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 and then retaliated against employees who publicly criticized the practice.

Years of contentious legal wrangling followed until Leelanau County’s Board of Commissioners in October 2012 -- just one week before trial -- settled in the deputies’ favor on the county insurance company’s recommendation. Details of the settlement became public in January, about the time newly elected Sheriff Mike Borkovich took office.

Borkovich said he’s glad the dispute’s “tension and stress” didn’t carry over into his administration. He said three of the deputies from the lawsuit remain in the department and he has tremendous respect for their abilities and hard work.

“I feel bad that whole thing happened, but as of now everything is going very well,” he said.

Oltersdorf and Wooters couldn’t be reached for comment.

The settlement didn’t completely wipe the slate clean for Leelanau County -- insurance premiums increased from $160,000 last year to $192,000 and will only slightly dip in 2014, but Janik said it’s difficult to know how the settlement affected the numbers.

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