Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger has filed a federal lawsuit against Macomb County, alleging there is a conspiracy to remove her from office.

Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger has filed a federal lawsuit against Macomb County, alleging there is a conspiracy to remove her from office.

File photo by Joshua Gordon

Macomb County clerk sues county alleging conspiracy

By: Joshua Gordon | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published January 10, 2018

DETROIT — Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger is suing Macomb County, alleging a conspiracy between county officials, a union representative and two local journalists to stop her from doing her duties as clerk.

Spranger filed the federal lawsuit Jan. 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, the latest development in a year-long battle between Spranger and the county.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an order signed by St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly in December, ordering Spranger to not interfere with the county’s human resources department in filling 14 vacancies in Spranger’s office.

In the lawsuit, Spranger names those involved in the alleged conspiracy as Macomb County Deputy Executive Mark Deldin; Macomb County Corporate Counsel John Schapka; Human Resources Director Karen Bathanti; Donna Cangemi, president of the AFSCME Local 411 union; Macomb County Circuit Court Judge James Biernat Jr.; WDIV Channel 4 reporter Jason Colthorp; and Macomb Daily reporter Jameson Cook.

However, only the county is named a defendant in the case, which Schapka said is the basis for a motion he is drafting to dismiss.

“She is unhappy with the state court ruling and attempting to get the federal court to be the boss of the state court, which as a matter of law, is simply not allowed,” Schapka said. “She wants the court to order us to stop conspiring, but none of us are defendants in the case, so the court has no authority over you. They can’t order us to do anything or not do anything.”

In the lawsuit, Spranger alleges the county has hindered her ability to appoint and hire employees and that those named have served as “county actors” to conspire against her.

Spranger claims Biernat has not approved any suggested deputy clerks, Deldin forced the Clerk’s Office to relocate in 2017, and that Colthorp and Cook reported false and misleading news about the Clerk’s Office, using Bathanti, Deldin and Schapka as internal sources.

Spranger also alleges she is being targeted by the county because she has reported fraud and abuse in Macomb County as part of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption in the county.

Spranger and Cook did not return a request for comment by press time. In a statement, WDIV Channel 4 denied the allegations against Colthorp.

“WDIV denies any allegations of wrongdoing against its reporter and will continue, as always, to cover issues of importance to our community,” the statement said.

Spranger filed a lawsuit against Macomb County over the summer seeking, among other things, a court judgement as it pertains to her duties. The lawsuit was moved to Kelly in St. Clair County Circuit Court because of Spranger’s duties as clerk for the Macomb County Circuit Court.

In September, Schapka and the county filed a countersuit that questions Spranger’s residency on her election affidavit from 2016 and whether she actually lived in the Warren home she listed on the form.

In November, the Macomb County Circuit Court issued Spranger a letter outlining a backlog of reports in her office, including 4,400 Law Enforcement Information Network criminal history reports dating back to August and nearly 3,000 e-filing bundles for the court.

That led to a state of the clerk’s office report from Spranger to the county Board of Commissioners on Nov. 30 and eventually the order from Kelly on the job openings.

In the most recent lawsuit, Spranger said the legal actions by the county have affected her job in an effort to get her out of office.

“The collective legal actions by Macomb County and the county actors have eroded the management rights of Spranger,” the lawsuit states. “The court orders are a concentrated effort by Macomb County to systematically take over her offices.”

Spranger is asking the court to dissolve the county’s countersuit, dissolve a temporary restraining order by the union and for all those involved to cease and desist in their civil conspiracy.

The latest lawsuit comes on the heels of Spranger’s attorney in the circuit court suit, Frank Cusumano Jr., filing a response to the county’s claim that she did not live at the address listed on her election affidavit.

The county claims the address is uninhabitable because there has been no utilities there for years.

In the response, Spranger admits she is the owner of the property on Hudson Avenue in Warren, but that a lack of water doesn’t make it uninhabitable.

Furthermore, the response states the countersuit tries to deprive Spranger her constitutional right to run for office “based solely on her impoverished circumstances.”

Schapka said there are no pending court dates in St. Clair County Circuit Court as of Jan. 4.