Contempt of court hearing for Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger held; opinion expected this week

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. – Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger was in court Wednesday morning representing herself in a contempt of court motion hearing filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union Council.

The motion calls Spranger a "scofflaw" and claims she violated a court order by interfering with a union steward's ability to do her job.

The AFSCME said the steward noticed a non-union employee doing a union job and wanted to take corrective action, but Spranger ordered her to go home.

Spranger gave a written response to the contempt motion to the AFSCME. Court was briefly adjourned so a copy could be made for the court.

“It’s not my custom ordinarily to recommend to the court to read my opponent’s documents but I think in this case, I recommend it heartily, because these documents reveal a mindset that is very disturbing,” the union’s attorney said.

The AFSCME says Spranger’s office willfully keeps departments understaffed. Spranger says tensions between her and the staff are making things difficult in the workplace. 

Union steward takes the stand

Christine Feliciano took the stand and told the court about several grievances she had pending against Spranger. 

She discussed an incident in which a non-union supervisor was acting as a cashier. Feliciano said she told the supervisor that a grievance would need to be filed and that Spranger soon ordered her to go home.

Several phone calls between human resources and others involved took place before Feliciano was placed on paid administrative leave.

Spranger asked Feliciano about when she was put on leave. They disagreed about what was said and how it was said. Spranger alleges Feliciano was sent home due to shouting. Feliciano says it was retaliation.

HR director discusses grievances

Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations Karen Bathanti took the stand and told the court about the grievances against Spranger.

Bathanti said there are close to 40 grievances filed. She said a majority of the grievances against Spranger are about creating a hostile work environment.

The attorney for AFSCME asked what actions have been taken in regards to the grievances. Bathanti said HR has made counselors available to employees and that numerous attempts have been made to review the claims with Spranger but that she has refused. 

Bathanti also testified that there are 13 positions open in the clerk’s office but that hiring processes were stalled by Spranger.

The incident in question with the union steward was discussed and Bathanti said she contacted Spranger immediately after she became aware of the problem. Bathanti said Spranger accused Feliciano of attacking the supervisor and accused multiple people of lying about the incident.

Spranger asked several questions about legal counsel being available at grievance meetings and what steps are supposed to be taken during a grievance process. Hiring and promotion opportunities were also briefly discussed on the stand.

Judge scolds Spranger for being late

The court broke for lunch and was due back on the record at 1:05 p.m. Spranger was 30 minutes late.

“The court has allotted considerable leeway with respect to your serving as your own counsel in this matter. The court recognizes that you are not an attorney, however being able to read a clock does not require any legal experience,” the judge said to Spranger. “We have all been waiting here. Where were you?”

Spranger said she didn’t realize they were only given a half hour for lunch.

Spranger calls first witness

Jackie Ryan, chief register of deeds, was called to the stand to talk about how the union steward handled the situation. Ryan said she helped the supervisor get set up as a cashier that day because they were short-staffed. 

Ryan said there are a "great deal of issues" with the union steward and that the grievance was only made due to a lack of promotion opportunities for her. Ryan also began to allege that Feliciano was passed over because she spent to much time socializing.

The testimony focused on a phone conversation between Spranger and human resources as to who has the power to put an employee on paid administrative leave.

Ryan said supervisors and non-union employees have helped as cashiers before and that it was never a problem in the past.

Witnesses unavailable; final arguments made

Spranger had planned to call several employees to the stand but they were not present in the courtroom after Ryan finished her testimony and the judge called for final arguments.

A sheriff’s deputy went to the clerk’s office to retrieve Spranger’s witnesses from the clerk’s office.

The AFSCME’s attorney made his final arguments in the meantime.

Spranger was asked to call her witnesses. They still hadn’t made it to the courthouse. Spranger made her final arguments and told the judge the human resources director was lying. The human resources director was called back to the stand and the judge questioned both Spranger and Bathanti.

Spranger’s final arguments were interrupted by the judge several times to clarify her claims. 
Court went to recess as Spranger’s witnesses were on the way to the courthouse.

Supervisor in question takes stand; employees testify

The supervisor who was acting as a cashier which prompted the incident was called to the stand even though she was not expected to be called as a witness.

To expedite the court proceedings, the judge asked the majority of the questions.

The supervisor said she didn't know she wasn't supposed to help when cashiers were not available and that her conversation with Feliciano made her very upset.

An employee working as a cashier was called to the stand and the judge continued questioning.

The first employee said she was helping customers when the incident happened and did not hear many of the facts in question. The second employee was called to the stand and she told the court she was not present during the interaction at the cashier station.

Final arguments continue; opinion expected this week

The union's attorney argued that the grievance is protected activity and that the union steward  was retaliated against.

Spranger argued that the union steward treated the supervisor poorly and that is why she was sent home. 

The judge said a written opinion will be issued later this week.

Stay with Local 4 and for updates on whether Spranger is held in contempt of court.

Full coverage of Karen Spranger

Jan. 19, 2017: Spranger barred from using county computers after violating security protocols

March 13, 2017: Spranger seeks lawyer for court battle with Hackel

April 11, 2017: Spranger hides in bathroom to avoid questions about dispute with county board

April 20, 2017Macomb County Clerk fined for ethics violation amid dispute with county board

April 20, 2017Macomb County clerk crashes county car after being fined for ethics violation

April 24, 2017Neighbor says home listed as Spranger's primary residence overrun with raccoons

May 3, 2017Emails reveal another battle between Spranger and Macomb County officials

May 4, 2017Spranger caught hiding moving boxes to block move to new building

May 9, 2017Legal battle troubles intensify for Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger

May 10, 2017Judge orders Spranger to cooperate with move to new building

May 17, 2017Spranger answers claims that her office is 'hostile work environment'

June 19, 2017Simple report turns heated between Spranger and county officials

June 22, 2017Macomb County clerk files suit to allow firearms inside government buildings

June 28, 2017Spranger's employees working in fear after security removed

July 20, 2017Spranger accused of perjury over 'uninhabitable' home in Warren

Aug. 1, 2017Lawsuit announced against Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger

Aug. 14, 2017Employee calls 911 after Spranger asks to look through her purse

Sept. 22, 2017Spranger accused of moving, hiding computers overnight

Sept. 28, 2017Judge rules against Spranger in 'toxic work environment' case

Oct. 21, 2017: Spranger's totaled car among items up for bids at Macomb County auction

Oct. 25, 2017Spranger caught on video covering up court order

Oct. 27, 2017Union files restraining order against Spranger over 'hostile workplace'

Oct. 27, 2017Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger sues Google amid residency battle

Nov. 1, 2017Employee blames Spranger for huge online backlog at office

Nov. 7, 2017: Spranger requests $100K to pay for her ongoing legal battles

Nov. 9, 2017Spranger's office given Thursday deadline to clear e-filing backlog

Nov. 9, 2017Spranger fails to meet judges' backlog deadline

Nov. 9, 2017: Spranger solves long wait times by bringing in benches for customers

Nov. 21, 2017Union files motion to hold Spranger in contempt of court

Nov. 29, 2017Contempt of court hearing held for Spranger

Nov. 30, 2017: Spranger appears before Board of Commissioners

About the Authors:

Jason anchors Local 4's 5:30 p.m. newscast. He joined WDIV in January 2015 as a general assignment reporter and has a Journalism degree from Michigan State University.