2017-12-31 / Insight

Court headlines frequent in 2017

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


Michael Manley (left), Matthew Norwood (back to camera), and Bernard Jocuns (right) are shown, along with an unidentified team consultant huddle for the three Lapeer area teens charged with terrorism-related charges. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Michael Manley (left), Matthew Norwood (back to camera), and Bernard Jocuns (right) are shown, along with an unidentified team consultant huddle for the three Lapeer area teens charged with terrorism-related charges. Photo by Andrew Dietderich Headlines stemming from courtroom action were frequent for Lapeer County in 2017, as high profile cases worked their way through the legal system.

Some were resolved relatively quick while others could still be classified as being in the early stages. The following is a brief summary of some of the highest profile cases.

Zemmer 3

In April, three Lapeer area teens were each individually charged as adults and with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit terrorism and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The teens were from Metamora, Mayfield, and Deerfield townships and police initially accused them of plotting a Columbinestyle massacre at Zemmer Middle School in Mayfield Township. (The Deerfield teen faces additional counts of using a computer to commit a crime and a count of false report of terrorism.)

In November, the Metamora teen entered into a plea agreement with Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey. The teen pleaded guilty to making a false terrorist threat and using a computer to commit a crime. A charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism cause death – which carries up to a life sentence upon conviction – was dropped.

Sharkey said the Metamora teen will be sentenced under the Holmes Youthful Training Act, which provides that after an extensive period of time (no less than five years), “it will be up to the court to determine whether he has ‘earned’ the right to have these 20-year felony convictions removed from his record.”

Any such removal would depend on the Metamora teen fully complying with all terms of his sentence and that he “has otherwise exhibited exemplary behavior,” according to Sharkey.

In early December, the Mayfield teen took the same deal.

The Metamora and Mayfield teens are set to be sentenced in January.

Sharkey said he expects the trial for the Deerfield teen to be scheduled in early 2018.

Former Marathon Township official embezzlement

Former Marathon Township Treasurer Nolan Kinder pleaded guilty Nov. 13 to a count of embezzlement by a public official — a charge that carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

The case against Kinder revolved around a check for about $300 that was supposed to be refunded to the township, but instead was taken by Kinder while he served as township treasurer.

Kinder is set to be sentenced in Lapeer County Circuit Court on Monday, Jan. 29.

Per a plea agreement with Sharkey, a misdemeanor charge of willful failure of a public official to uphold the law was dismissed.

Townships vs. county

Almont, Marathon, and Deerfield townships, through their elected officials, filed a 10-page complaint against Lapeer County on March 17 claiming that a November 2016 ballot proposal violated the state’s property tax and election laws.

The ballot proposal allowed the county to levy a one-mil property tax for a period of four years to allow for establishment of a countywide ambulance service called Lapeer County Emergency Medical Service Authority (Lapeer County EMS).

While voters countywide approved the proposal, those in Almont turned down the millage proposal 2,377 to 881, Marathon voters said “No” 1,052 to 1,018, and Deerfield Township voters rejected the measure by 28 votes.

In July, Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka granted a motion to essentially toss the case. However, an appeal on the decision has been filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals, where the case is pending.

Church vs. township

Lapeer Township-based Irish Oaks Community Church filed a seven-count federal lawsuit Feb. 21 claiming township officials violated the church’s First Amendment rights and violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000 by refusing to give the church a special land use permit for a seven-acre site on a farm near the south end of Wilder Road. Attorneys for the township have argued Irish Oaks’ lawsuit is wrong in its interpretation of township zoning. The case is set to go to trial in U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan in early 2018.

Township vs. businesses

A Lapeer County Circuit lawsuit/ counter-lawsuit continues between Metamora Township (along with the Metamora Land Preservation Alliance) and American Aggregates of Michigan Inc. (AAOM), Ajax Paving Industries Inc., Edward C. Levy Co., and the Great Lakes Council Inc. Boy Scouts of America.

AAOM wants to mine sand and gravel from an approximate 500-acre site for 30 years while Metamora Township opposes the proposal on the grounds that a state gravel statute being used by AAOM undermines local jurisdictional interests.

Several motions were heard throughout 2017 and the case remains unresolved with a scheduling conference set for Jan. 19.

Judge vs. county

On May 15, Lapeer County Judge Byron Konschuh filed a six-count (three more counts were added in June) defamation lawsuit against Lapeer County and five individuals he contends maligned his reputation during a multi-year ordeal that included felony charges being filed against him regarding certain monies he received and spent while serving as Lapeer County prosecutor. (Following a short delay of sentence, the felony charges were dismissed with prejudice and Konschuh returned to the bench in April 2016.) Konschuh now seeks more than $100,000 in damages.

On July 17, Lapeer County, through its elected officials, and the five individuals – John Biscoe, controller/administrator, Lapeer County; Tim Turkelson, former prosecutor, Lapeer County, John Miller, former chief assistant prosecutor, Cailin Wilson, former assistant prosecutor, Lapeer County, Dana Miller, treasurer, Lapeer County – filed a counter suit against Konschuh.

The counter-suit levies three claims against Konschuh: conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and defamation.

The overall goal, the defendants/ counter-plaintiffs say, is to get the money back that the county had to pay for visiting judges — about $100,000 — and a public apology. The money would be returned to the county.

The case is in the discovery phase. A trial date has been set for June 25.

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