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NLCMH wants Halloway settlement amount sealed by the court
The Record-Eagle - 2/6/2021
Feb. 6—TRAVERSE CITY — A mental health organization will ask a judge to permanently seal financial details of a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit — a request a Michigan Press Association attorney said ignores the state's transparency laws.
In 2019 Teresa Halloway filed suit against Northern Lakes Community Mental Health and a staff psychologist after her son, Alan Halloway died by suicide inside Grand Traverse County's jail.
The civil suit accused psychologist Joseph Barkman, then an employee of NLCMH, of negligence after Barkman canceled a suicide watch for Alan Halloway in 2017, and Halloway hung himself with jail-issued socks two days later.
The suit was settled out of court Jan. 27, financial details were redacted from court documents and a Freedom of Information Act request for the settlement amount filed by the Record-Eagle was denied.
No settlement agreement between NLCMH and Teresa Halloway exists, CEO Karl Kovacs said in an email, rather there is a Motion for Authority to Distribute Proceeds, which NLCMH seeks to keep under seal, he said.
The NLCMH board discussed the case in a closed session Jan. 21, board minutes show.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled Feb. 22 in front of 13th Circuit CourtJudge Thomas Power, "at which time, the Court would decide whether to keep the amounts confidential," the email states.
This request runs counter to the spirit of Michigan's transparency laws, said Jennifer Dukarski, an attorney with Butzel Long, the firm tasked with answering the MPA's legal hotline.
"This is critical financial information that should be known by the public," Dukarski said. "A public body should not be able to hide the amount simply by getting a court order."
"There is a responsibility to taxpayers to be transparent about how taxpayer money is being spent," Dukarski said.
NLCMH provides services to residents of six counties — Crawford, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Missaukee, Roscommon and Wexford — and its approximately $70 million annual budget comes from taxes collected by those counties, plus state and federal funds, documents show.
In Michigan, taxpayer-funded entities are required by the Freedom of Information Act to make financial records public.
Exemptions of personal information such as home addresses and social security numbers are allowed, as are trade secrets and information that, if released, could interfere with law enforcement proceedings, for example.
Kovacs said he believed NLCMH was following the law.
"That (denial) was prepared by our attorneys so I'm confident that we met our requirements," Kovacs said.
Halloway, 41, was arrested July 18, 2017, following a shooting at Bay Hill Apartments where one man was wounded.
There was a subsequent car chase and a brief standoff at Halloway's home in Grawn, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
After negotiators convinced Halloway to surrender, he said he'd taken 20 Valium pills and "made statements during arrest about harming himself," according to court documents. He was examined at Munson Medical Center before being lodged at the jail on a $1 million bond.
Unnamed jail staff placed Halloway on suicide watch July 18, 2017. Barkman canceled the watch July 19 and Halloway died by suicide July 21.
Louis G. Corey, a Royal-Oak attorney representing Teresa Halloway, previously said the settlement amount had been redacted from court documents by unanimous agreement, then declined further comment.
Thomas R. Shimmel, a Detroit attorney representing NLCMH and Barkman, did not return a call seeking comment.
A longtime contract renewed annually between NLCMH and the jail for mental health services expired Dec. 31; negotiations for another renewal are ongoing, said Jail Administrator Chris Barsheff.
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