ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – In September, a majority of the Delta County Board of Commissioners voted to remove County Prosecutor Lauren Wickman as its primary legal counsel. Now, Wickman is calling for more information, and the board chair is clarifying his position.
Chair David Moyle defends the board’s decision to replace Wickman with a new primary legal counsel, Scott Graham.
“We would be the only county in the state of Michigan to have its prosecuting attorney, elected by the people to prosecute, act as our municipal counsel,” Moyle said. “If you can find me an example of another county—counties that have resources—that uses its elected prosecuting attorney as its municipal counsel, I will admit mistake.”
On October 10, Wickman approached the commission about its decision.
“That was a surprise to us,” Moyle said.
Wickman said the board was in violation of Michigan Legislature statute 49.72.
“If you do such a thing—of appointing a new attorney—the prosecutor is not involved anymore,” she told the board at the meeting. “Currently as you have it, you have Mr. Graham, MMRMA, and myself.”
Wickman also said the details of the decision must be submitted in writing.
“There’s a certain statute that requires that a reason be put behind that position,” she told WZMQ 19. “That’s fine if that’s your decision, but I need to have that decision documented in the reasoning in compliance with case law and statute because that’s my job as lawyer is to make sure you’re following the law.”
In a letter sent to Wickman and published in the Daily Press days later, Moyle stated, “The Board has determined that the representation your office has provided is inadequate to meet the needs of the County and its residents in certain civil matters… Therefore, the Board has determined that it is in the best interest of the County and its residents to retain other counsel for representation when needed in civil matters.”
“I did not say that she was inadequate to handle all matters of the county,” said Moyle. “I said that the County Board feels that, in some situations, she might be inadequate to handle certain municipal activities.”
Specifically, Moyle says he is trying to protect the county against a potential “conflict of interest.”
“There was a situation brewing between the judges and the sheriff on placing minors in the jail, and the Prosecutor said she could handle that,” he said. “I’m like, ‘You need to stay away from that, and so does the County Board.'”
The issue at hand involves legislation requiring certain housing conditions to be met in order for jails to take in juveniles.
“Our jail is not set up for that at the moment, so there’s been some back and forth about how to accommodate that,” Wickman said. “I don’t see it as a conflict of interest, quite frankly. If I wasn’t civil counsel, I’d still be involved in those conversations because I’m the chief law enforcement officer in Delta County.”
Moyle stands by his letter. He says the board backed it as well.
“They supported me in my letter to the paper striking back publicly saying, ‘What we did wasn’t wrong; we didn’t put the county in a litigious situation,'” he said.
Wickman disagrees, saying the letter was not supported by the board “as a whole.”
“I’ve spoken with Commissioner Viau and Commissioner Petersen,” she said. “They were both surprised by the letter, as well as its contents.”
Commissioner Steven Viau says he was, in fact, surprised by the letter.
“The first time I’d seen it was when one of my constituents brought it up to me,” he said. “When the commission met and decided that we would be uniform in making that statement that he made, I said I was not part of anything that was talked about on being unified as a full commission. Mr. Moyle’s letter to the public was not correct in the aspect that there was a discussion on the services of the Prosecutor to the point where it was a split vote.”
However, Commissioner Robert Petersen says he knew the letter was going to be published beforehand.
“I do stand behind what Dave said, and that would make the majority of the board that stands with him,” Petersen said. “Taking it in context…we said that there were some issues that we felt we should have an outside attorney. Most municipalities, counties, townships, cities, do not use their prosecuting attorney as a municipal attorney. We are trying to work out how to use her when it’s proper and how to use our municipal attorney when it’s proper.”
There has been concern among some Delta County residents over Scott Graham’s hiring and a possible connection to Moyle.
“Scott has never been my personal counsel,” Moyle said. “He represented my ex-wife in a matter once. I saw the job he did, and I wanted the best for the people. I wasn’t giving my buddy a sweet deal. If Scott chose to, at a federal level, he could charge $1,000 an hour. I think he’s past that point in his career. If you check his pedigree in the sixth circuit, you’re not going to find anybody who can touch what he does. Just because I saw the man provide good services doesn’t disqualify him. If anything, it should qualify him. There’s no backroom deals.”
Now, Wickman’s primary concern is getting clarification from the Board of Commissioners.
“I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of it,” Wickman said. “I think Mr. Graham feels like he’s stuck in the middle of it. I know there’s been questions that have come up from administration that they don’t know who to go to, so that decision needs to be finalized. If that’s Mr. Graham, that’s fine, but the reasons need to be stated on the record so we’re complying with the law.”
Commissioner Viau hopes the commission can move forward with improved communication and decision-making.
“We just need to communicate better and be on the same page when we start making decisions that affect everybody in the county and the services that we offer and who we can rely on,” he said.