Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 9, 2013

Ex-Meijer attorney's case moves forward

BY GLENN PUIT
gpuit@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A lawyer accused of lying under oath about Meijer’s illegal political activities in Acme Township lost his bid for dismissal of state regulators’ complaint against him.

The Michigan Attorney Discipline Board denied a motion for dismissal from Timothy Stoepker, of Grand Rapids. The May 6 ruling means Stoepker is now a step closer to a formal hearing that feasibly could cost him his law license.

“It’s always important for someone who is put under oath, and who is testifying … to tell the truth,” said Robert Edick, deputy administrator with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, which filed the complaint against Stoepker.

“We are alleging in this case that Mr. Stoepker didn’t tell the truth,” Edick said.

The complaint against Stoepker stems from his representation of Meijer in the corporation’s pursuit of a store off M-72 in Acme Township. Amid details that became public during a lawsuit, Meijer officials admitted they secretly spent more than $100,000 on lawyers and a public relations firm to fight a 2005 township referendum, and also to support a 2007 effort to recall the township board because of some board members’ store opposition.

Stoepker represented Meijer during those efforts. He also was involved in filing lawsuits against township officials, one of whom in turn sued Meijer. The latter suit prompted a 2007 civil deposition of Stoepker in which Stoepker said twice under oath he had “no knowledge” of Meijer’s work to impact local elections.

Documents showed otherwise, that Stoepker contracted with a public relations firm to help recall Acme leaders. Stoepker also represented Meijer on the referendum and recall election.

Meijer acknowledged in 2008 that it violated state campaign finance law and paid more than $190,000 in fines and costs.

“We believe that Mr. Stoepker played a role in those violations,” Edick said.

The Attorney Grievance Commission filed a complaint against Stoepker in March, nearly six years after the deposition. Stoepker’s attorney, Donald Campbell, filed court motions seeking a dismissal, saying Stoepker shouldn’t be disciplined because the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that led to the fines against Meijer eventually was deemed unconstitutional under the provisions of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Campbell also argued the complaint did not identify campaign contributions from Stoepker.

A three-member hearing panel rejected those arguments in a ruling issued May 6.

“It is the hearing panel’s unanimous decision that grounds for dismissal … have not been established in this case,” wrote hearing panel chair William S. Farr. “The factual allegations set forth … would, if established by a preponderance of the evidence, provide a sufficient basis for findings of professional misconduct.”

Campbell declined comment. Edick said more legal motions are expected to be filed in the coming weeks and months. A formal hearing date for Stoepker has not been set.