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Dispute over water costs returns to Alpena courts

News Photo by Julie Riddle Attorney Bill Pfeifer represents his client, Joseph Marshall, in Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court on Monday.

ALPENA — Attorneys representing the City of Alpena and Alpena Township held a lengthy in-chambers conference with Judge Ed Black on Monday morning, the first time a local conflict over water costs returned to Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court after being rejected by the state Supreme Court.

Monday’s hearing marked the legal battle’s return to Alpena courts after the city and township were instructed to iron out their differences themselves by the higher court last month. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the township, which was sued by the city in 2014 over the township’s refusal to pay a water rate increase.

In a brief public hearing following the private conversation, Black gave both parties six months before the case next appears in court. Attorneys must revisit seven years’ worth of litigation, Black said, and “unpacking that is going to take some time.”

If no resolution is reached by the six-month mark, the case will have to start ramping up to head to trial, Black told both parties.

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Also in court on Monday, an Alpena man with a history of theft said mental illness contributes to his sticky fingers when he appeared in court for sentencing on Monday.

William Gauthier, 41, pleaded guilty to stealing a bicycle, breaking into a vehicle, and drug possession.

Given Gauthier’s record of 16 felonies and 24 misdemeanors, most of them thefts, Black said he doesn’t accept mental illness as an excuse. Gauthier chose to steal, just as he chose to use drugs, the judge said.

“You may not respect your body, but you’re going to respect other people’s property,” Black said, sentencing Gauthier to six months in jail and warning him the next stop was prison. “I have to do something to get you to quit taking stuff from people.”

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Joseph Marshall, one of three men arrested in October after a high-speed chase on Chisholm Street in Alpena, is still headed toward trial, which may or may not happen in June.

Marshall was arrested after a local pharmacy reported someone tried to pass a fake prescription. When police arrived, Marshall and Mickale Williams, both from the Detroit area, sped away, endangering pedestrians and other drivers, before crashing into trees and fleeing on foot, according to police reports.

Marshall was captured by an Alpena Police Department officer and charged with multiple crimes, including possession of a counterfeit prescription, after drugs and fake prescriptions were found in the car.

Marshall faces separate accusations of trying to pass fake prescriptions at an Alpena store in May. In that incident, GPS data puts Marshall near the store at the time in question, but store employees were not able to identify Marshall, defense attorney Bill Pfeifer said in court on Monday.

Marshall, who has rejected one plea offer, is scheduled to go to trial in June, but the date may change as the court decides how to schedule trials around climbing coronavirus testing numbers, Black said. Recently, Alpena’s Circuit Court moved back a phase and is limiting the number of people allowed in the courtroom at once. According to local health officials, 216 Alpena County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

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