MARQUETTE - The Marquette County Board is scheduled to discuss?Tuesday whether to pay an outstanding attorney bill that dates back to a controversy last year over the county's then newly-drafted apportionment plan.
After legal counsel from the Michigan Attorney General's Office recently declined to issue an opinion on whether the bill could be paid - as was requested by the county board - Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch is recommending the board pay the outstanding debt, which totals $4,915.
Richard Bandstra, chief legal counsel for the AG's office, said in a May 23 letter that the process for rendering opinions "is generally limited to questions that present significant issues of state law or are of broad significance to state or local governments. Your question does not fall within either of these categories."
Bandstra sent two prior attorney general opinions that were not "directly on point," but offered some additional reference for the county.
"It is my interpretation that the included attorney general opinions did not address Marquette County's questions," Erbisch said in a written communication to the board. "However, they did support hiring outside legal counsel under certain conditions."
Erbisch recommended the board pay the bill to the Marquette law firm of Kendricks, Bordeau, Adamini, Chillman & Greenlee from the county's miscellaneous legal fees account. Erbisch said other options the board could consider include paying a portion of the bill the panel believes represents the work authorized, not paying the bill at all or hiring an attorney to continue to review the matter.
The board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Room 231 of the Henry Skewis Annex to the Marquette County Courthouse.
In May 2011, the county board had hoped to challenge a decision by the Marquette County Apportionment Committee that reduced the number of county commission districts from nine to six.
The board asked Kendricks, Bordeau, Adamini, Chillman & Greenlee to determine if the panel could request a review of the reapportionment decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The firm determined only a registered voter could individually do so. The law firm also prepared a legal brief on behalf of the county, which Commissioner Bill Nordeen said was expected to be filed with the appellate court as an amicus curiae brief.
Amicus curiae participants are those persons or groups who have a strong interest in the subject of a given court action, but they are not a party in the lawsuit. If given permission by the court, the individuals or groups can file briefs on behalf of one of the lawsuit parties, which allow them to forward rationale in the case in line with their own viewpoints.
Then Marquette County Civil Counsel Cheryl Hill said the board never attempted to submit the brief to the court as an amicus filing, but instead made it available to citizens to use as a basis for two appeals, which eventually were denied. Hill was concerned the board was trying to do something indirectly it couldn't legally do directly and if the bill was paid, the state constitution may be violated.
Seeking an initial independent attorney general opinion, Hill wrote a letter to be submitted through the county prosecutor. The board objected to her action because commissioners were not first consulted. The original letter was never sent.
At the board's direction, a reworked letter, with input from Hill and the board, was instead sent by state Rep. Steve Lindberg, D-Marquette, to the attorney general on behalf of the county.
County board members objected to the reduction of commission districts under the new apportionment plan, largely because they felt fewer districts would result in less effective representation for constituents.
The reduction in board members and districts will take place Jan. 1, with the six new district seats to be filled in the November election.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.