TAWAS CITY – A Roscommon judge with Michigan’s 34th Circuit Court has ruled in favor of the Iosco County Prosecutor’s office in that office’s bid to keep Iosco County officials from slashing their department budget, keeping it at 2020 levels.
Judge Robert Bennett signed an order granting a preliminary injunction and issuing a write of mandamus during a hearing held Feb. 9 in West Branch.
The order comes after a show cause and evidentiary hearing held in West Branch on Jan. 29, where witness testimony, evidence and arguments were presented on either side of the issue.
The lawsuit was filed by Iosco County Prosecutor James Bacarella late last year after the adoption of Iosco County’s 2021 General Fund budget, which included many cuts including the elimination of a full time position from the prosecutor’s office, among other layoffs.
Bacarella’s civil lawsuit was filed in Iosco County’s 23rd Circuit Court on Dec. 18 by Grewal Law PLLC of Okemos and sought an “ex parte motion” for a temporary restraining order and “ex parte motion” for order to show cause against the county.
Those motions were granted, with a new hearing held on Jan. 29.
Bacarella’s lawsuit alleged that the position of prosecutor, being a constitutionally and statutorily created position, has a constitutionally required minimum amount of funding that the county has to provide so he can run his office. The lawsuit asked that the county provide legal reasoning as to why the funding should not be provided.
Bacarella’s lawsuit alleged the proposed level of funding would make it impossible for Bacarella to discharge the duties of his office and ensure that office would have minimum serviceable level of funding required by law to ensure that the case load could be managed. The lawsuit was supported by surveys and affidavits showing that the Iosco County Prosecutor’s office received substantially lower funding than all other comparably sized counties in Michigan.
Grewal Law attorneys John Fraser and Cheyenne Benyi represented Bacarella at a live in-person evidentiary hearing—essentially a bench trial—to determine whether a preliminary injunction should be granted to prevent the implementation of the proposed budget cuts and require Iosco County to maintain the status quo level of funding that had been provided in the previous year’s budget. The hearing was also to determine whether the Court should issue a writ of mandamus to restore the Prosecutor’s Operating Under the Influence of Liquor (OUIL) fund, which the County had taken action to dissolve and place the funds into the County’s general fund. A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary court order that directs a government official to take a particular action to fulfill their official duties.
Following witness testimony, including testimony presented by Alcona County Prosecutor Tom Weichel on behalf of Bacarella, the court’s decision prevents the proposed budget cuts to the prosecutor’s office from being implemented during the awaited settlement of the case and requires Iosco County to restore and maintain the OUIL fund as a separate fund from the County’s general fund.
Recently the Iosco County Board of Commissioners met in closed session with their attorney, during a public meeting held Feb. 17.
That meeting, although it went into closed session, did not have any public decision made by commissioners on how to go forward with the lawsuit. Iosco County Clerk/Co-administrator Nancy Huebel said the topic of the closed session was the litigation. She had no further comment on the case, and declined to say whether the county would appeal the decision.
Bacarella did not have any comment on the litigation and declined comment as well.