By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Charlevoix County Prosecutor John Jarema said he’s not sure why some are overreacting to what amounts to a minor oversight which could ultimately have little to no effect on whether taxpayers will have to pay nearly $67,750 in legal fees to attorney Dan Hartman who defended Charles Merriman in his 2008 murder trial.
During the commissioner comments portion at the end of the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners’ Wednesday Feb. 8, meeting Charlevoix County Commissioner Shirlene Tripp (R-District 1) said she has received phone calls expressing concerns over whether Charlevoix County will be forced to pay Hartman’s fees.
“Are we addressing that and going to file proper paperwork?” Tripp said.
Jarema said the paperwork for the appeal has been filed accordingly with the attorney general’s office and the county will seek to have the Michigan Supreme Court hear their case.
“I personally talked with Attorney General Schuette on Friday, I talked with his appellate counsel Monday, I overnight-ed the paperwork that they asked for and they said that they were going to file that,” Jarema said.
How it all began
Hartman took over the Merriman case pro bono – for free – assuming it would last the scheduled 5 days. The trial ended up taking 16 days, and Hartman felt he should be compensated for 710 hours worth of work at a rate of $75 per hour.
The Charlevoix Circuit Court authorized $5,641.14 in attorney fees on the case and Hartman took the issue up with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Hartman should receive more compensation and sent the matter back to Charlevoix County Circuit Judge Richard Pajtas to review and determine a reasonable amount of compensation for Hartman.
As Jarema does with all appellate matters, he sent the paperwork for an appeal on the decision to the Michigan State Attorney General’s Office.
“They act as our proxy on all criminal appeals and I thought they would handle this,” Jarema said. “I get notice saying no brief was filed so I called them and they said they don’t handle those kind of cases.”
He added, “Appellate work is so specialized that I don’t handle any of it, in fact larger counties have their own appellate division to handle this kind of work.”
Jarema said if the Michigan Supreme Court rejects hearing the case then it will come back to Pajtas to decide a payment amount that the regardless.
“I understood it sort of put one of those attorneys sort of at the edge of bankruptcy because he worked for almost six months without pay to do this and they were not very happy,” said Tripp who again asked Jarema if he was on top of the matter.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Bob Drebenstedt (R-District 5) asked if Jarema is going to support Pajtas in the matter.
“Is he going to support Judge Pajtas and try to save us this $67,000 lawyer fee they are hitting us with?” Drebenstedt said.
Jarema said he has supported, and will continue to support, Pajtas’ opinion in the matter.
“I thought that the dissent (Michigan Court of Appeals) in that opinion was the proper one so that is what the AG’s office is going to appeal,” Jarema said. “I went and argued the original motion in front of Judge Pajtas when he made the original ruling.”
After the meeting Drebenstedt expressed concern that Jarema had written a letter of recommendation for Hartman.
Jarema said he believes some are trying to draw correlations that do not exist between unrelated issues surrounding the matter.
“Because I submitted a letter of recommendation for Hartman, who is looking to become the prosecutor in Otsego County, somehow I purposely didn’t do that appeal?” Jarema questioned. “The appeal was due back in October/November and the attorney just decided within two weeks ago he was stepping down as Otsego’s prosecutor.”
Jarema said it sounds suspiciously as though he were being accused of botching the appeal in hopes that Hartman would be paid, despite the fact that he argued against Hartman in the murder trial.
Jarema said he has been asked to give letters of recommendation, letters of reference and to be used as a reference by numerous people.
“It happens fairly frequently, and I would not give a letter of recommendation or verbal recommendation if I did not feel the person genuinely was worthy of that,” Jarema said. “I don’t know how anyone could think this would benefit myself.”