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Board to retain outside counsel for civil matters (From 10/14 2018 Lapeer County Press)


LAPEER — An “erosion of trust” between the Lapeer County Board of Commissioners and the Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office, caused the Board on Thursday to appoint an outside attorney to represent the county as Corporation Counsel on civil matters — effectively removing that responsibility from the Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office.

According to the resolution adopted Thursday, the decision was made because the Board “needs independent, impartial and unbiased legal counsel” to represent the Board on all civil matters related to Lapeer County.

The resolution continues, stating that the decision to bring on Corporation Counsel is in response to Lapeer County Prosecutor Michael Sharkey stating “repeatedly that his office is currently unable to handle its current caseload which includes both criminal and civil cases.”

As per the resolution, the Board will begin accepting formal competitive sealed bids from attorneys wishing to become the county’s Corporation Counsel, and in the interim, the responsibilities will be handled for 120 days by the Livonia-based Mike Cox Law Firm, after which the Board will select a bid estimated at an excess of $50,000.

The resolution further states that “most citizens today” view the Prosecutor’s Office as primarily organized to prosecute criminal, not civil cases. The move, according to the resolution, to hire Corporation Counsel, is also partly in response to Sharkey’s statements and to “lessen the caseload” of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and allow it to “focus solely on criminal law prosecutions.”

According to Commissioner Ian Kempf, the circumstances leading to hiring a Corporation Counsel is unusual. “It’s incredibly unfortunate,” he said. “In the 18 years I’ve sat in this seat I never thought we’d be hiring corporation counsel.”

Commissioner Lenny Schneider echoed Kempf’s opinion, stating that the circumstances are “regrettable. It’s the common practice of the prosecutor to be corporation counsel,” he said. “Trust and loyalty are key components of any relationship with an attorney, and it’s totally eroded with Mr. Sharkey.” Schneider said the cost “ends up being borne by the taxpayers” of Lapeer County. “It’s unfortunate but it’s a necessary step,” he said.

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