Attorney for Augusta Township board members: Clerk Kathy Giszczak illegally tape recorded conversation
Augusta Township Clerk Kathy Giszczak allegedly testified in a deposition that she electronically eavesdropped on a conversation between the township's deputy treasurer and supervisor.
That allegation surfaced as part of an Open Meetings Act lawsuit pitting one half of the board against the other half.
Electronic eavesdropping is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, though no criminal charges have been brought against Giszczak. A hearing on the OMA lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 13.
In a legal brief filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court for the OMA lawsuit, Nik Lulgjuraj, an attorney representing Trustee Mike King, Trustee Dan Lula, Supervisor Pete Hafler and former Supervisor and Trustee Kathy Jackson, wrote that Giszczak admitted to tape recording a conversation between Janice Blair and Hafler in January 2010.
The information obtained in the recording was passed on to former Treasurer Angela Sherbine, and Blair was subsequently fired. Blair filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, and Giszczak admitted to tape recording the conversation during an Aug. 5, 2011 deposition for that case, Lulgjuraj wrote.
He included a portion of the deposition’s transcript in the brief. In the transcript, Giszczak testified she believed she “might have provided information to the treasurer that influenced the treasurer terminating Janice Blair.”
Giszczak then said that she secretly tape recorded the conversation and was not part of it.
Attorneys then stopped the deposition and advised Giszczak to seek independent legal counsel, Lulgjuraj wrote in the brief.
The wrongful termination lawsuit has since been settled out of court, though Lulgjuraj says not all of the board was aware of the alleged eavesdropping.
Lulgjuraj wrote Sherbine and Giszczak “knew they were in trouble” and that’s why Sherbine resigned at the end of September. Sherbine, who did not return calls from AnnArbor.com, previously said she was leaving her post to be closer to her family in Alabama.
“Sherbine figured she had better leave her position, but concealed her intention to do so with the help of board members that were acting in concert to conceal the apparent eavesdropping activity,” Lulgjuraj wrote, though he did not respond to AnnArbor.com calls seeking clarification on how he knows that’s why Sherbine left her post.
Sherbine’s resignation and the appointment of Susan Burek as the interim treasurer prompted the OMA lawsuit. The plaintiffs say the resignation and appointment were done deceitfully and violated the OMA, and are asking judge Timothy Connors to nullify the votes that approved them
Trustee Brian Shelby, Giszczak, Trustee Bill Tobler and Sherbine were present at the meeting, which is enough for a quorum. They voted on Sherbine’s resignation, which was approved unanimously. The remaining three board members voted to approve Burek's appointment.
The entire Augusta Township board is named as defendants, though only Giszczak, Tobler and Shelby can consult with the attorney since the other board members are plaintiffs. Sherbine is also named as a defendant.
The plaintiffs say they were unable to attend the special meeting because of its short notice and because it was scheduled on the Friday afternoon prior to Labor Day weekend.
The meeting was called on Thursday, Sept. 1 and scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2. Giszczak previously said the notices were properly delivered to the board members homes more than 24 hours in advance, as is required by the OMA. She also said Hafler was notified via his mailbox at the township hall as she said he requested be done, and provided emails showing that Hafler was aware of the meeting.
But Trustee Mike King previously charged that the short notice was done intentionally so that he couldn’t get out of work commitments. Lulgjuraj also wrote in his brief that the defendants knew Lula was out of town that day and intentionally didn't respond to emails about the meeting.
The plaintiffs also charge the notice for the special meeting "deliberately misstated" its purpose, which was said to be for a "Treasurer's staffing report." It did not directly say it had to do with Sherbine's resignation.
Both sides have bitterly fought for majority control of the board in recent years, but Lulgjuraj insists in the brief that the real reason for the alleged OMA violations has to do with the eavesdropping.
“Frankly, the defendants’ position is just an attempt to continue concealment of past wrongdoing that should not be tolerated by the court,” he said.