GENESEE COUNTY, MI — The county’s medical health officer says a lawsuit that claims her appointment is null and void because she never took an oath of office amounts to nothing more than a “politically motivated attack designed to waste time and precious taxpayer resources.”
Attorneys for Dr. Pamela Hackert and three critics of her response to the COVID-19 pandemic argued Monday, May 9, whether Genesee Circuit Court Judge Brian S. Pickell should issue a declaratory judgment against Hackert and the county Health Department.
County residents Lindsey Spiewak, April Snyder and Debra Kaake-Zofko filed the lawsuit on March 31, asking the court to rule that Hackert vacated her position when she failed to take an oath prescribed in the Michigan Constitution within 60 days of her appointment by the county Board of Commissioners.
Pickell took the case under advice on Monday, saying, “I need to take a closer look at this case.”
Related: COVID-19 policy critics say Genesee health officer’s appointment ‘null and void’
Hackert took office on Jan. 4, 2021, and had not filed her oath as of mid-November, according to the lawsuit, which says Spiewak made a Freedom of Information Act request to the county to determine if evidence of Hackert’s oath-taking exists .
The county denied the FOIA request, saying no such record existed.
Rhonda R. Stowers, who is representing Hackert and the county Health Department, told Pickell that there is no legal mandate for Hackert to take a constitutional oath and no requirement that it must be done within the time limits spelled out in the lawsuit.
The complaint cites a section of state law that says an office becomes vacant if an individual refuses to or neglects to take an oath and file it with the county Clerk’s Office, but Stowers argued that a separate state law actually governs the health officer’s appointment and duties. .
“Glaringly absent from this provision is a requirement that the officer take the constitutional oath of office, which appears without fail in apparently every other statute for every office where the oath is required,” Stowers wrote in a response to the lawsuit.
Hackert’s response to the lawsuit says she agreed to be bound by the county’s code of ethics when she accepted her position and that she later duplicated that promise to uphold the law by taking the oath of office in the state Constitution, making the complaint against her moot .
Hackert became a focal point of controversy soon after her appointment as medical health officer during the coronavirus pandemic.
She issued a public health order requiring all county schools to enforce mask-wearing for K-6 students, teachers and staff regardless of their vaccination status in 2021, lifting the order before the close of last year.
Readmore: Mask mandate for Genesee County schools to be lifted Dec. 22
Spiewak, Snyder and Kaake-Zofko are among a group of county residents who have regularly appeared before the county commissioners and Board of Health, logging complaints against Hackert’s policies and questioning the wisdom of blanket requirements on students and school districts.
Some protesters have demanded Hackert be fired and have continued their criticism of county officials throughout this year.
As recently as April, Hackert walked out of a Board of Health meeting before returning after speakers called health officials “evil” and “wicked.”
Also: Genesee health officer pleads for end to personal attacks tied to COVID-19 response
Last year, a Grand Blanc woman was charged with threatening the life of Hackert and her chief deputy after allegedly calling the Health Department and telling a woman answering the phone, “We will find them, and we will kill them.”
The woman, Helaina M. Burt, who has denied making a death threat, entered a plea agreement with prosecutors in March, pleading no contest to one misdemeanor count of malicious use of service provided by a telecommunications service provider.
In return for her plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss a second count of the same charge as well as one felony count of making a false report or threat of terrorism.
Burt is scheduled to be sentenced June 21.
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