GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A hearing next week will determine how Ottawa County and its former lawyer will be sanctioned over its objections to the way the state’s opioid settlement money was being allocated.
Third Circuit Court Judge Patricia Fresard signed the sanction order April 26.
The judge decided Ottawa County and its then-corporate counsel Doug Van Essen put forth “frivolous” arguments about its ability to spend the settlement money. She noted the county argued it couldn’t legally spend the cash even though its then-administrator had signed a document acknowledging the county could spend that money. She also said the county and Van Essen incorrectly characterized the firm selected to manage the settlement as an agent of the federal court when it is not.
“…The allegations in Ottawa County’s lawsuit … were frivolous and were filed in violation of (state law),” Fresard said, according to a transcript of an April 11 hearing in Detroit. “Ottawa County relied on facts which it had reasonable basis to believe.”
Van Essen said he never made any arguments maliciously and that he believed his arguments were “true to their core.”
Sanctions are unusual. Two attorneys who have been practicing for decades noted at the April 11 hearing that they had never been involved in a motion for them before. Van Essen himself has been an attorney for more than 40 years and said he had never faced sanctions before.
It’s not yet clear what the sanctions will look like. That will be decided after a hearing on May 10.
Regardless of the sanctions, Ottawa County will still get its portion of the opioid settlement.