GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The attorney for Ottawa County’s top health officer is again asking a court to put a stop to a hearing for her removal, arguing that the rules set for the hearing would violate a ruling saying Adeline Hambley’s termination must abide by state law.
In a motion filed Friday, Hambley’s attorney Sarah Howard asked Judge Jenny McNeill to enforce a preliminary injunction against Ottawa County leaders and stay the Oct. 24 hearing until McNeill can hear arguments about proper procedures for it and until the Michigan Supreme Court decides on a planned appeal.
For months, Hambley has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the county commissioners backed by political action committee Ottawa Impact who moved in their first meeting in January to oust her. Her suit argues that state law prohibits the firing of a health officer without cause to prevent the health officer from doing her duties and said that the commissioners did not show evidence that she was not doing her job. For their part, the commissioners argued that Hambley’s appointment was never finalized, so she isn’t technically the health officer.
On Thursday, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a ruling saying that Hambley was rightfully appointed, but also that the board may fire her if it can prove just cause under state law.
A hearing for Hambley’s removal has been scheduled, with a document signed by Commission Chair Joe Moss laying out a case for cause. The document alleges misconduct in the way Hambley handled and communicated to the press about the recent budget process.
The Friday motion argues that the hearing for removal does not comply with state law because it is a “pre-determined sham proceeding,” pointing out that commissioners have been trying to oust Hambley since their first day in office.
Howard also argued that the rules for the hearing sent to her by the commissioners’ attorney do not afford her client due process because Hambley will be required to tell the board about her evidence and witnesses beforehand, even though the board won’t be providing her attorney with the same information. Howard also said she was told commissioners would not be allowed to be witnesses, “even though some of them clearly have information directly relevant” to Hambley’s argument.
Howard also said the Oct. 24 hearing should be stayed because the commissioners’ attorney has indicated publicly that he will appeal the Court of Appeals’ decision that Hambley was rightfully appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
“They should not be permitted to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak — by holding a hearing without having to submit discovery or testify themselves regarding evidence of their motives, and then at the same time still arguing their litigation position…” the motion reads in part.
Both sides are scheduled to go before McNeill on Oct. 20 to discuss the injunction; Howard asked that McNeill consider the stay of the hearing at that time.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to News 8 earlier this week that Ottawa County has submitted an application for Nathaniel Kelly to be the next health officer. Kelly, who works as a safety manager at a Grand Rapids heating and cooling system service and repair company, has criticized COVID-19 mitigation measures like wearing masks and social distancing.