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Township wins lawsuit in tractor case

July 31, 2013 - A court-appointed panel of three attorneys ruled in favor of Independence Township in a lawsuit filed by local attorney H. Wallace Parker.

Legal cost is around $14,000, according to township Supervisor Pat Kittle.

The lawsuit stems from a 2011 incident in which a township-owned tractor was thought to be missing.

Parker, who owned a similar looking tractor on his property in Independence Township, claimed the township trespassed, took photographs of his farm equipment, and peeked into his windows.

An investigation by the Oakland County Sheriff found Neil Wallace, a township trustee at the time, called a township Department of Public Works employee on July 4, 2011, to go to Parker's home and see if the tractor was the one missing.

Parker claimed the employee removed the tractor from his property, checked it, and then returned it. He said the tractor was damaged when it was moved.

The township denied moving the tractor from the property.

Parker filed a trespassing claim at the sheriff substation in Independence Township and originally said all he wanted was an apology, but then filed suit against the township and Wallace for defamation on Aug. 2, 2012.

Parker, chief council for the North Oakland Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the board, "You were grossly negligent in accusing me, the only minority who owns agriculture property (in Independence Township)."

The lawsuit sought monetary damages for "Defamation and Disparagement of Reputation" as well as a complaint for "Declaration of Innocence."

Attorney Steve Joppich, who represented the township and Wallace, said Parker was unable to specify to the court what the township or Wallace said to defame him.

According to a letter to the township, Dr. James O' Neill donated the tractor to the township more than 30 years ago. When he found out the tractor was broken and unfixable, O'Neill requested the tractor be returned to his family.

Former township Supervisor Dave Wagner returned it in 2010, and O'Neill got rid of it. However, Wagner did not inform the township board, and was absent on sick leave when the issue came up.

Parker did not return calls for comment.

Staff writer
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