TRAVERSE CITY -- A Traverse City judge had harsh words for downstate developers who tried to manipulate a bankruptcy proceeding to avoid being sued by former Acme Township Treasurer Bill Boltres.
Grand Traverse County Circuit Court Judge Philip E. Rodgers denied two separate motions by the Village at Grand Traverse LLC to dismiss Boltres' lawsuit that alleges malicious prosecution and abuse of process. In one of the motions, the Village argued Boltres lacked standing to sue because he was in bankruptcy.
"This is like the lawyer's relief act case, we have seen every motion and strategy," said Boltres' attorney Grant Parsons. "You could write a book."
The Village purchased one of Boltres' outstanding debts and tried to avoid repayment to "manufacture an argument" that only the bankruptcy trustee, not Boltres, had standing to sue, Rodgers said in a written opinion released Feb. 26.
"The Village's arguments were never about fairness to creditors but a procedural manipulation to avoid answering substantive allegations on their merit," Rodgers wrote. "If the Village is correct about the law, and this court firmly believes it is not, it offends common sense, sound public policy and what most people would believe is justice."
Meijer Inc. and the Village sued eight township officials in 2005, including Boltres, alleging they had a conflict of interest while they considered a development project off M-72. Meijer officials said they were seeking millions of dollars in damages.
Boltres alleged the personal lawsuits were used to threaten significant economic risk should he vote against plans for large commercial and residential development on M-72 anchored by Meijer.
He suffered a heart attack and other medical problems while being sued, then filed for bankruptcy.
Boltres subsequently sued Meijer in 2007 and settled for an undisclosed sum. His suit uncovered Meijer's illegal tampering in two township elections and funding of a citizen's group that harassed township officials.
Then, in early 2008, Boltres sued the Village. The developer then purchased one of his bankruptcy debts.
Rodgers, though, ruled that because Boltres paid all debts with interest and the bankruptcy trustee abandoned any interest in suing the Village, Boltres had standing to sue the developer.
In the second motion, the Village argued Boltres didn't meet legal standards to sue for malicious prosecution because he never had the conflict of interest lawsuit successfully dismissed.
The claim initially was dismissed, overturned on appeal, dismissed again, appealed again, and became even murkier in a flurry of out-of-court settlements.
Rodgers ruled the conflict of interest claim had been dismissed; to make sure, he issued a separate opinion that again dismissed it.
Rodgers did take issue with Parsons' wording of the suit and gave him 14 days to amend it.