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Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger unlikely to prevail in federal lawsuit

Former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

"It's been a hard row," Macomb County Court Clerk Karen Spranger told a federal district judge Tuesday about the legal and administrative roadblocks placed in the way of her effort to run the office how she wishes. "It's very unfair. This has to stop."

Spranger, representing herself, claims the county, the courts, unions, and the media have conspired to deprive her of her civil rights. That's after a circuit court stripped her of most of her authority for refusing to fill crucial positions necessary to keep county government operating. 

Another lawsuit seeks to oust her from office for allegedly lying on her application to run for office.

When U.S. District Judge George Steeh asked Spranger how her constitutional rights were being violated, she picked up a sheaf of papers and held it up. "It's all in here," she said. "I didn't know I would be asked that today. You can read it in here."

Steeh told Spranger that federal district courts simply don't have the jurisdiction to overturn state court rulings or halt state court cases just because someone is unhappy with the result. 

He suggested Spranger get the assistance of an attorney and said he will give her another chance to remedy the deficiencies in her claim, before he rules on the county's motion to dismiss.

In other lawsuits involving Spranger, she's being sued by two employees she fired after they allegedly blew the whistle on her ethics violations. She is also being sued for secretly videotaping a customer conducting business at the clerk's office.

She filed a lawsuit against Google after the company complied with a sheriff's office subpoena in their investigation about whether she lied about where she was living on an application to run for county clerk.

She also lost two administrative hearings over violations of labor contracts, and she has lost at least 23 employee grievance hearings as well.

She agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the county because she was refusing to have her offices moved according to a plan that had been put in place before she was elected. She had tried to stop the relocation by hiding the boxes necessary for the move.

Spranger blames the chaos in her office on her predecessor, Carmella Sabaugh, as well as uncooperative and hostile union supervisors and union employees. 

Spranger cannot be removed from office by anyone except the governor. A recall election can't be mounted against her until next year, according to state law.

County officials say most of her job duties are now being performed by middle managers.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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