TRAVERSE CITY -- Even total victory by Meijer Inc. at the state Court of Appeals may not prevent a group of Acme Township officials from finding out who at the retail giant authorized illegal election tampering.
Meijer last week won a round in an escalating battle with local officials when a three-judge panel in Grand Rapids temporarily halted Acme Township planning commissioner Robert Carstens' suit against the retailer.
That judicial panel froze Carstens' suit while it considers Meijer's appeal of a Grand Traverse County judge's ruling that allowed Carstens and other Acme officials to sue Meijer for harassment.
But Carstens' attorney, Michael Dettmer, of Traverse City, said he still expects to take depositions from Meijer president Mark Murray and co-chairman of the board Hank Meijer. Both have made public statements indicating they were unaware of Meijer's illegal efforts to influence Acme elections in 2005 and 2007, but neither have had to do so under oath.
If the appeals court dismisses Carstens' suit, Dettmer expects to depose Murray and Meijer in parallel actions against Meijer's former attorneys and development partner.
"My level of worry about this (appeal) isn't very high," Dettmer said. "Even with the worse-case scenario, we'll be back in litigation at some point."
Both Dettmer and Meijer attorney James Brady said the stay, granted late Friday, wasn't unexpected. Both also said they were pleased the appeals court will take the time to carefully review all the documentation in the case.
The stay prevented a planned Monday hearing at which planning commissioner Clare David and township trustees Erick Takayama, Frank Zarafonitis and Ron Hardin were to ask a local judge to allow them to join Carstens' suit against Meijer and its former attorneys, Dickinson Wright PLLC and Timothy Stoepker.
Those Acme officials also want to include the Village at Grand Traverse LLC in their suit. Meijer was to anchor the Village's proposed development on M-72.
The lawsuit charges that Meijer, the Village and its former attorneys intentionally harmed township officials through a frivolous 2005 lawsuit, illegal campaign activity and secret financial support of a citizens group that harassed township officials.
Meijer representatives in the 2005 suit threatened to seek millions of dollars in damages from the township and its officials.
Last November, the targeted Acme officials agreed to release Meijer and its attorneys from future litigation to settle the lawsuit. But that agreement came before Meijer publicly acknowledged it illegally spent more than $100,000 to influence township elections.
Grand Traverse County Circuit Court Judge Philip E. Rodgers ruled the releases were obtained under "extraordinary" circumstances, and opened the door for the Acme officials to sue.
Meijer subsequently asked the appeals court to overturn Rodgers decision.
Dettmer said the Village, however, never dropped its claims against township officials, and the Village's attorneys -- Stoepker and Dickinson Wright -- weren't released from the case.
In a related lawsuit, the Village has already indicated through court filings it plans to blame Meijer, Stoepker, and Dickinson Wright for any potential damage to Bill Boltres, a former Acme Township treasurer.
Village attorney Alan Wilk could not be reached for comment.
"Ultimately, its just a matter of waiting and let the system work it's way through," Dettmer said.