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Ex-Macomb County assistant prosecutor sues over firing

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — A former Macomb County assistant prosecutor is suing the county, former prosecutor Eric Smith and interim county prosecutor Jean Cloud, asserting he was denied promotion and eventually fired for testifying about Smith before a federal grand jury.

The county responded to James Langtry’s complaint and demand for a jury trial Tuesday, saying he was never in line for a promotion and that his position was eliminated in a reorganization because of a steep decline in his traffic violation duties.

Langtry worked in the county prosecutor’s office from 1988 to Jan. 1 of this year, when he retired.

He was reappointed as a special prosecutor three weeks later as part of an optional retirement program.

In March, according to the suit, Langtry “engaged in protected activity by becoming a witness and participating in the criminal investigation by the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Attorney General’s office” into Smith’s office.

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith briefly addresses members of the media after the arraignment.

Smith; Derek Miller, the chief of operations in the prosecutor’s office; and Benjamin Liston, the chief of staff were charged in connection with an alleged scheme to embezzle county forfeiture funds on March 24.

The next day, according to Langtry’s complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Smith created a new “Statement of Appointments” on file with the county clerk, removing Langtry as his successor.

According to the complaint, Smith replaced Langtry with Cloud.

About an hour after Liston’s arraignment March 27, at which state assistant attorney general Mike Frezza identified Langtry as “a key witness,” Langtry said Cloud summoned him to her office, the suit alleges.

“Cloud state that (Langtry) would no longer be involved in any office decision-making,” according to Langtry’s court filing.

“Defendant Cloud subsequently referred to Plaintiff as a ‘snitch’ to numerous staff members,” his complaint asserts.

Jean Cloud

On April 13, Cloud summoned Langtry and informed him “that due to a ‘reorganization,' he was being terminated, effective immediately,” according to the court filing.

Langtry said the actions constitute a violation of his constitutional right to free speech, the Whistleblower’s Protection Act and improper interference with his employment, so-called “tortious interference.”

He is seeking damages, lost wages and benefits, costs and fees, a declaration the defendants violated his rights, an injunction against further violations and reinstatement as county prosecutor.

A lawyer for the county denied Langtry’s assertions.

“The complaint is an interesting work of fiction,” said John Schapka, county corporation counsel.

Langtry was let go because of a considerable decline in traffic violations and the need to cut costs, after he had already retired and been brought back to a part-time job to a court that closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Schapka said.

“All the work dried up,” he said.

He also said there was no established line of succession to the county prosecutor, and that all of the assistants are selected by the prosecutor.

“I guarantee the county would not have done anything to him because he was cooperating in an investigation,” Schapka said. “The county was very much interested in that investigation going forward, without any interference or impediments.”