Source: Sherman Publications

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Lawyers seek township’s info

by Trevor Keiser

March 21, 2012

Independence Township finds itself facing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after township attorney Stephen Joppich switched law firms.

Joppich and five other attorneys left Farmington Hills-based Secrest Wardle to join the new firm Johnson, Rosati, Shultz and Joppich P.C.

Secrest Wardle sent a FOIA, March 8, to the township requesting all communications including letters, emails, and text messages between township employees, elected officials, and other officials, and attorneys Thomas Schultz, Stephen Meads, Stephanie Simon Morita, Charles Snell, Elizabeth Kudla Saarela, and Steven Joppich, as well as any other employees from Secrest Wardle between June 1, 2011, and Feb.16, 2012.

It also seeks proposals, bid packages, resumes, applications, retainer agreements, fixed fee agreements, contracts and other documents between the lawyers and Johnson, Rosati, Shultz, and Joppich PC, as well as agendas, minutes, recordings, transcripts, addendums and other documents regarding the township counsel meetings from June 1, 2011.

On March 16, Clerk Barbara Pallotta said she was trying to get a hold of Mark Masters of Secrest Wardle, who wrote the request.

"The whole scope of it is so broad," she said. "I'm asking him to tear it down a little bit, be a little more specific."

Pallotta heard back from Secrest Wardle and said "the FOIA stands (as written)" so she added it to the March 20 meeting for the board to discuss what to do.

Joppich worked with Independence Township for 18 years. He was an assistant township attorney until former township attorney Gerald Fisher retired.

At the Feb. 21 regular meeting the board voted 5-1 to retain Joppich as their attorney. Trustee Mark Petterson was the lone "nay" vote, because he felt it should have been let out to bid.

However, Trustee David Lohmeier felt staying with Joppich was the best choice and said they could put it out for bid six months from now if they want to.

"Mr. Joppich has been our attorney," Lohmeier said. "I view a stronger relationship with the attorney who's represented us than I do a firm."

Trustee Neil Wallace agreed because they are only months away from an election of a new board.

"By time we get around to making a decision on a new bid, we'll be even closer to a new board," he said.

Petterson was also upset that Secrest Wardle wasn't notified prior to letting them go. Joppich said there was never a contract between Secrest Wardle and the township.

"I was here when the decision was made to bring me back and the members of that firm several years ago. No contract was put into place," he said. "It was done by way of decision of the board and we continued on from there."

Petterson believes the board violated the bid policy and that the process was not done fairly.

"I want these people to fight for our work. If the fight includes firms battling between their prices, fantastic, goal accomplished, that's exactly the way it should be," Petterson said. "But we're not even going to test whether or not the township could get a cheaper price and we owe it to the taxpayers to do that."