March 01, 2017LAPEER COUNTY — A Whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2015 against Lapeer County and former Prosecuting Attorney Tim Turkelson was quietly settled last fall.
Former assistant prosecuting attorney Maya Gertsberg was awarded $167,500 in a settlement that was facilitated by retired Wayne County Judge James Rashid on October 6, 2016, three months after the primary election in which Turkelson lost his seat to fellow Republican attorney Michael Sharkey.
Gertsberg brought the action after being fired by Turkelson for raising concerns about fellow county employee John Miller, who was serving as Turkelson's chief assistant at the time.
Gertsberg concluded that Miller was doing work for a private employer while on Lapeer County taxpayers' dime, in effect embezzling his salary and/or taxpayers' time.
Gertsberg's complaint alleged that Turkelson's attitude toward her changed, as did his treatment of her. She said she was given the "cold shoulder," and also that he mocked her accent (she is a Russian refugee).
She was seeking damages in excess of $25,000. The $167,500 settlement is "justice for Maya," and vindication, says attorney Tom R. Pabst, who along with Michael Sharkey, Michael Kowalko and Jarret Pabst, brought the suit on behalf of Gertsberg.
Pabst says the request for facilitation—settlement negotiations—came on the heels of discovery documents he presented to the defendants that would have blown the case wide open.
"The key to winning this case was a carefully prepared set of discovery, including Requests to Admit which would have resulted in defendants and non-parties having to turn over 'smoking gun' proof that supported Maya's allegations," he says.
"Nobody pays $167,500 if there was nothing wrong. The award shows she was righteous in her allegations, that she did the right thing," Pabst continues. "I'm proud to represent Maya. She's a very fine person."
Pabst says county officials should look into the matter for the sake of transparency.
"I think there should be an investigation into the finances," he says. "Taxpayers have a right to know how the public payroll is being handled. If someone's working a private job on public payroll, taxpayers should know. My feeling is let the sunlight come in."
Before being hired by Turkelson as an assistant prosecutor, Gertsburg was clerk to Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka for ten years. In all, she worked for the county for 14 and-a-half years before being dismissed by Turkelson.
Turkelson left the prosecutor's post when he lost the November, 2016 election to attorney Michael Sharkey, who assumed the role in January of this year.
Turkelson was appointed Lapeer County Prosecutor by Judge Holowka in April of 2013, when former prosecutor Byron Konschuh was appointed to the Lapeer County Circuit Court bench by Governor Rick Snyder.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.