County settles lawsuit with former employee

Settlement cost taxpayers more than $250,000


CHARLEVOIX — A settlement with a former county employee cost taxpayers more than a quarter-million dollars, county records show.

Officials tried to keep the agreement secret, but records obtained by the Record-Eagle through the state Freedom of Information Act show Jacqueline Rozema, longtime Charlevoix prosecutor's office manager, received $275,000 to drop her lawsuit against the county.

The county cut the check to Rozema on Dec. 28. County Board chair Shirley Roloff, who signed off on the final agreement, said she had been told by the county's lawyer, Janice Hildenbrand, to keep the terms confidential.

"When I talked to our attorney who was handling the matter, she informed me that I wasn't to talk about it,” Roloff said. "I'm glad it's out there for people to know what's happening.”

County Clerk Jane Brannon, who provided the check register documents and the four-page agreement after the Record-Eagle submitted a FOIA, said she, too, was told the agreement was not to be discussed.

"We thought 'confidential' meant just that,” she said.

A county employee for more than two decades beginning in 1981, Rozema in 2003 became involved in a series of contentious Whistleblower Protection Act lawsuits.

She was a witness in a civil case brought by then-assistant prosecutor John Jarema against his boss, former Prosecutor Mary Beth Kur. Rozema filed a follow-up lawsuit of her own, claiming Kur retaliated against her for cooperating with Jarema, who has since been elected chief prosecutor.

A jury in 2005 awarded Rozema and a co-plaintiff a combined $1.1 million verdict in that case. Days later the county cancelled Rozema's health benefits, a move that prompted Rozema to file a second lawsuit early last year.

She alleged $300,000 for lost benefits and $100,000 in costs and attorney fees. Her attorney, Grant Parsons, said an independent mediation panel heard the facts and recommended a $350,000 settlement.

Neither Brannon nor Roloff said they knew the total attorney costs to the county for the case. Check records obtained by the Record-Eagle show Hildenbrand's Southfield law firm was paid $805 in December and $6,074 in January.

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