LAPEER — Is it possible Lapeer County EMS's business rival is funding the lawsuit against the ambulance provider and Lapeer County?
That's a question the county wanted answered but on Monday, Judge Nick Holowka denied Prosecutor Mike Sharkey's motion for discovery on the matter, saying it wasn't relevant to the plaintiff's case.
The plaintiffs in the suit are Almont, Deerfield and Marathon townships but Sharkey and the defense suspect Medstar Ambulance may be covering the lawyers' fees.
Sharkey contends it is relevant because "the lawsuit seeks to undermine certified election results and the public ought to know who's funding the lawsuit."
The original suit was filed in March, challenging the validity of a November 2016 Lapeer County EMS ballot proposal that voters narrowly approved. Medstar is an ambulance company based in Macomb that serves several surrounding counties, including Lapeer and actively campaigned against the millage proposal last year.
Sharkey said he filed the motion regarding funding after learning—thanks to meeting minutes—that Deerfield Township is not funding the lawsuit although they are participating. Additionally, the plaintiff's lawfirm, Secrest Wardle, represents Medstar in other legal matters.
"This kind of information should be disclosed. I'm not sure what the big secret is," Sharkey said.
According to their March meeting minutes, Almont Township approved a retainer agreement but no additional details were provided. Supervisor Paul Bowman has declined to comment on the matter.
In April, Holowka denied the plaintiff's request to halt collection of the EMS millage but did allow for an amended complaint to be filed regarding the validity of the ambulance authority.
The townships' lawyers argued the millage violated Michigan Election Law in that the proposal was not clearly written and that it did not provide a clear statement of purpose because it suggested the millage would "establish" a county-wide ambulance service even though Lapeer County EMS had been in existence for more than 10 years.
The four-year millage is expected to generate more than $2.7 million in the first year it's collected, totalling $10.8 million over its entire life. Lapeer County EMS pledged to use the money to stabilize itself financially and expand services to underserved areas of the county. Had the millage failed, it's likely the provider would have had to close its doors.
Lapeer County EMS has retained former state attorney general Mike Cox as their lawyer in the suit. Sharkey appears in court on behalf of the county.
All sides are due back in court Monday, July 17, where the defendants will ask to have the lawsuit thrown out.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.