Thursday, July 31, 2008

MSC appoints Griffin to ADB

Farmington Hills forensic psychiatrist Rosalind E. Griffin has been appointed to the Attorney Discipline Board by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The nine-member commission consists of six attorneys and three non-attorneys appointed by the MSC to serve on a volunteer basis.

Griffin's appointment expires Oct. 1, 2010.

She was a member of the Attorney Grievance Commission from 1990-94 and served on the Board of Regents of Eastern Michigan University from 1997-2004.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Censured 38th District Court judge faces five challengers

In the Detroit suburb of Eastpointe, 38th District Court Judge Norene Redmond, censured by the Michigan Supreme Court in February to the dismay of some and the delight of others (blog post and comments here), faces five challengers in the August primary.

The Detroit News has profiles of Redmond and the five candidates who would love to have her job. The attorney-contenders are:

  • Mark Cardellio, a former assistant prosecutor in Macomb and Oakland counties

  • Colleen Cohan, a former Eastpointe councilwoman who is the director of corporate ethics and compliance for Blue Care Network of Michigan

  • Andrea Ferrara, a former Wayne County circuit judge who was removed from the bench by the Michigan Supreme Court for misconduct in 1998; her private practice focuses on immigration and criminal cases

  • Kathleen G. Galen, who has practiced law for almost 20 years

  • Carl Gerds III, a former two-term Eastpointe city councilman who has practiced for about 30 years
The first- and second-place finishers in the Aug. 5 primary will square off for the district court seat in the November general election.

Friday, July 25, 2008

How to make the best of it when the press presses you

When a case involves a high profile client, or significant or controversial matters, lawyers need to put their best foot forward when its comes to dealing with the media, according to Susan Maynor and John Remsen, Jr., writing in "A Practical Tip Sheet for Lawyers and Law Firms."

Bone up on ethics and law regarding media relations in the relevant jurisdiction, they say, and designate an official spokesperson. Don't let anyone else talk to the press and make it clear that all media requests should go to the person you've chosen.

Maynor and Remsen have some excellent pointers on body language, what to say and how to say it, staying "on message," and the importance of having an exit strategy to end the media blitz outside the courthouse.

Learn why "no comment" is the worst comment.

Once past the hurly-burly on the courthouse steps, there are a number of things to think about when deciding whether to grant an interview. Maynor and Remsen guide you through the thicket.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Robinson won't run for MSC

Scratch Marietta Robinson as the Democrats' Michigan Supreme Court candidate.

That's the word from veteran government and politics reporter Tim Skubick on his blog and in a bylined report for the Michigan Information Research Service.

Robinson cited vote-siphoning concerns, now that the Libertarian Party has named Robert W. Roddis as its supreme court candidate. Skubick says "Robinson believes a chunk of her would-be support went to a minority party candidate" in the last election, which she lost to Justice Clifford Taylor, and feared a repeat this time around.

She's not a fan of the Reform Michigan Government Now ballot proposal, which was long-speculated to be the brainchild of the Michigan Democratic Party. That notion was confirmed last week when the Mackinac Center for Public Policy posted on its website a Democratic battle plan for the proposal. The Mackinac Center says the power point presentation was found on a union website.

Skubick reports that Robinson was worried, and rightly so, than any head-to-head campaigning with Taylor will be little noticed in the din that's about to be created by a Michigan Chamber of Commerce about-to-be-filed legal challenge to the proposal.

All well and good, but it strikes me that there may be another reason why Robinson has bowed out and others may think twice about throwing in: some of the groundwork Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer has laid for the supreme court contest borders on a 21st Century version of the theater of the absurd.

Last year, when the Detroit Free Press reported that most of the appellate judiciary was driving around in state-issued vehicles, Taylor, along with the other judges, turned in the vehicles. Brewer snagged Taylor's car at a state auction. Since then, he's tried to turn it into an icon of Taylor's supposed self-interested feeding at the public trough.

Last week, Brewer called a press conference to celebrate the one-year anniversary of buying the car!

Brewer's anniversary "gift" to Taylor? This letter:

"Dear Cliff,

"Since I've been driving your former taxpayer-funded car for a year now, I thought it was only appropriate that we celebrate our first anniversary. I'm sure you are missing it, so I wanted to let you know I am taking good care of the car as I travel the state sharing your pro-insurance company record with the voters. In fact, I have more than doubled the mileage on the car since you reluctantly turned it in after the scandalous press stories about your abuses. The car has been a big hit at press events, and our local activists love to have their picture taken with the symbol of your abuse of the perks of your office!

"Since I'm not in the habit of giving my car presents, I think you should receive this gift celebrating our first year together. A first anniversary is traditionally celebrated with paper - a letter, a book, or some fancy stationary. For you, I have packaged up some of my favorite news articles that chronicle your corrupt attempts to protect your own pay and perks while Michigan citizens have struggled to pay their bills.

"I have to tell you, the car is great. I am sure you miss it, but with your $164,000 annual paycheck and Lucille's high paying job with Mike Cox, I am sure you have purchased something even more luxurious by now.



"P.S. Please let the voters decide the RMGN ballot proposal - don't abuse your power yet again! Hope you enjoy our TV ad - it is running in your hometown!"
The TV ad Brewer refers to makes the stretchy argument that Taylor should decline to rule on any challenge of the ballot proposal because it contains a judicial pay-cut provision. See The Michigan Lawyer: MSC's Taylor target of new Democratic TV ad

None of this gives a Democratic high court candidate, whoever that might be, much to build on.

Brewer has said he's prepared to spend $20 million on this year's supreme court campaign.

Now he may have big trouble finding someone to spend it on.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Western District proposes amended court conduct rule

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan is considering changes to its local court conduct rules that would, among other things, specify who can use cell phones, PDAs and laptop computers, where the devices can be used and under what circumstances, and the consequences of violating the rule.

If the amendment is adopted, the court will not be fooling around, folks.

The enforcement mechanism is noteworthy: any device being used outside of the rules "shall" be immediately confiscated either by judicial order or by court security personnel.

Even more noteworthy: violators could face disbarment and criminal contempt of court.

What about getting your equipment back if it's been seized? From the proposed amendment:

"An individual whose device has been confiscated may apply in writing not less than seven (7) days after confiscation for its return. The application shall be made to the judicial officer whose proceedings were disturbed by the violation, or, if there is no such judicial officer, to the chief judge. The judicial officer may grant or refuse the request. Confiscated devices that are not returned, either because no request has been made within the time provided or the request for return has been denied, shall be disposed of in a manner directed by the chief judge."
It's not completely draconian. There's an innocent screw-up exception:
"Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit the judicial officer or his designee to return a device after the conclusion of a court matter if the violation was totally inadvertent."
The proposed amendment is open for comment through Aug. 1. Full text of the proposed amendment and instructions on how to comment here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Free wi-fi available at Eastern District Bankruptcy Court

The Eastern District of Michigan's bankruptcy court bar is tipping its collective hat to three chapter 13 trustees, Krispen Carroll, David Ruskin and Tammy Terry, and technology wizard Rich Collins, for making free wireless internet access available at the court's West Fort Street location in Detroit.

The trustees are footing the bill, and Collins arranged and supervised the installation, says Chief Judge Steven Rhodes.

The wi-fi covers courtrooms and conference rooms on 18th and 19th floors of the courthouse.

Rhodes says the court okayed "this service to provide the bar and the public with access to internet sites that may be needed while attending court, such as office networks and servers, ECF, the Court's order processing program, the chapter 13 trustee's websites and legal research websites."

Log on and other information here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

MSC's Taylor target of new Democratic TV ad

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, unfazed by his party's lack of a declared Michigan Supreme Court candidate for the November election, has rolled out a television ad aimed at achieving one of his stated goals for this election cycle: defeating Chief Justice Clifford Taylor.

The 30-second spot, "What Will Cliff Taylor Do?", urges Taylor not to block a ballot proposal that, among other things, cuts salaries, limits retirement benefits and requires financial disclosures for elected officials of all three branches of government, including the presumably self-interested chief justice.

"Special interests are willing to go all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court to block your right to vote for change," warns the ad's voice-over announcer.

"Justice Taylor should let the voters decide," she concludes.

Brewer is correctly anticipating legal challenges to the proposal, which amends the state constitution in dozens of ways and is being pushed by Reform Michigan Government Now! He's hoping to hit a public relations home run every time a judge rules against letting the proposal on the ballot.

He's touting the notion that there's an ethics problem for any judge who tries to block the proposal, which, it's been widely reported, Brewer has had a heavy hand in crafting.

But Brewer has a lot more on his mind than the situational ethics of those who might pass judgment on a plan that would let voters cut their pay.

The proposal contains the means for Brewer to accomplish his not-so-hidden agenda of shifting the high court's balance of power. As Detroit Free Press Deputy Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson astutely observed in last Sunday's editions, the proposal has "a kind of court-packing by reduction" feature.

If passed, the supreme court's bench would shrink from seven justices to five. The court's two most junior justices, Republican appointees Robert P. Young and Stephen J. Markman, would have to step down. That would leave the court with Taylor and Justice Maura Corrigan, who usually champion the Republican viewpoint. Justice Elizabeth A. Weaver has been in the Republicans' corner in the past. But, to their great annoyance, she has been a vocal maverick ever since the other court Republicans refused to back her for a second two-year term as chief justice. The Democrats would have two justices they can usually count on, Michael F. Cavanagh and Marilyn Kelly.

If the proposal reaches the high court, if Taylor votes with a majority to keep the proposal off the ballot, and if Brewer successfully pins the blame on Taylor (the television ad lays the groundwork for that), then, the thinking goes, the Democrats can cast Taylor as the villain and capture his seat on the court in November. This would leave Weaver as a swing vote to be wooed by both sides of a seven-justice court. It wouldn't be exactly the situation Brewer was looking for, but he'd be able to live with it.

And if the court unanimously rules against the proposal? This is not a good result for Brewer. Any criticism of Taylor can be applied with equal force to everyone on the court. But in similar situations in the past, Brewer has plowed right ahead. See, Case selection is important: Democratic Party chair slams chief justice for decisions joined by Dems, detractor", Michigan Lawyers Weekly, June 16, 2008.

If Taylor votes with a minority to keep the proposal off the ballot, Brewer gets a chance at a five-justice court and a solid three-Democrat majority. If the voters approve the proposal and reject Taylor in favor of a yet-to-be-named Democratic player, then Brewer will accomplish something he and his team have been dreaming about for years - a major philosophical change in the high court's makeup.

And he'll have done it by convincing voters to downsize the court with a designer amendment to the Michigan Constitution.

Despite what the ad might lead voters to believe, this is about a lot more than just pay cuts.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

23rd Circuit judicial ballot jousting continues

The on-the-ballot, off-the-ballot, back-on-the-ballot saga of Christopher Martin, a Tawas attorney who wants to bump either Judge Ronald M. Bergeron or Judge William F. Myles from the 23rd Circuit bench in November, has moved to the appellate arena.

The judges have been busy trying to bump Martin from the ballot.

Yesterday, the Michigan Supreme Court told the incumbent judges that the Michigan Court of Appeals gets first crack at deciding whether they can even complain about Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette's decision to put Martin back on the ballot. The Secretary of State had removed Martin because his nominating petition was short on signatures.

The judges had sought a bypass appeal directly to the supreme court. Full text of the court's order here.

It's an unseemly situation.

According to some fine reporting by Holly Nelson in The Oscoda Press, when Martin decided to run, he checked with elections officials and was told, orally and in writing, that he needed between 100 and 200 signatures to get on the ballot. Martin says he was also told that if he submitted more than 200, it would be a criminal violation of state election laws.

Martin took the middling ground and submitted 158 signatures. Two days after the filing deadline, the incumbent judges claimed that wasn't enough. From the Oscoda Press:

"Bergeron's challenge noted that, in 2003, the counties of Alcona and Arenac were added to the 23rd Circuit, expanding it from Iosco and Oscoda counties and increasing the circuit's population from 36,757 to 65,745. State law sets the signature requirement for non partisan petitions at 200 to 400 for districts with a population between 50,000-74,999."
The elections officials confessed error, told Martin they were awfully sorry, and removed him from the ballot.

Martin didn't take this lying down. After the state refused to take an additional 208 signatures from him, he sued to get back on the ballot.

The case landed in Collette's courtroom. First, Collette denied Bergeron and Myles' motion to intervene. One argument the two judges advanced was that they "have an obvious interest in whether an otherwise uncontested election becomes a contested election" and that they "have their own interests to protect that are not necessarily protected by the named defendants."

The state's attorneys, says Martin, argued that the law is the law, there weren't enough signatures, and that Martin, as an attorney, should have been sophisticated enough not to rely upon the filing information the state provided to him.

Collette gave Martin everything he wanted. The Secretary of State was ordered to accept the late-submitted signatures, verify them, and if valid, to put Martin back on the ballot. And, from the Belt-and-Suspenders Department, Collette enjoined state officials from taking Martin off the ballot.

Up at the Court of Appeals, Bergeron and Myles weighed in with a 200-page brief arguing that they belonged in the case, and that Collette had it all wrong.

And what about the elections officials and the Secretary of State's office? They declined to appeal Collette's decision.

The Michigan Supreme Court, in yesterday's order, instructed the Court of Appeals to issue a decision by Aug. 21. Court of Appeals Judges Patrick M. Meter, William C. Whitbeck and Stephen L. Borrello have asked Myles and Bergeron to address whether they are "aggrieved parties" within the meaning of MCR 7.203(A). The panel wants to know the judges' thoughts about "whether unsuccessful intervenors can be considered aggrieved parties for purposes of an appeal, and if so, under what circumstances."

So, there you have it. An attorney wants to make a judicial election competitive. The incumbents he's running against have forthrightly stated they have an "obvious" interest in not having to bother with an actual campaign to keep their jobs. A circuit judge from another county has hit that notion broadside with a blunderbuss. The Secretary of State and the elections officials, who provided the misinformation that helped spawn the whole affair, have checked out and are standing on the sidelines.

And a Court of Appeals panel will decide whether two incumbent judges who thought they were shoo-ins can even bellyache about the fact that now they are not.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kallman named to State Bar's Board of Commissioners

David A. Kallman, a family law practitioner in Lansing, has been appointed to the State Bar of Michigan's Board of Commissioners.

The Michigan Supreme Court announced the appointment today.

Kallman, who is a home schooling champion, will serve a three-year term as a commissioner-at-large. He takes office Sept. 17.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Troops get bar dues break

A snappy salute to the State Bar of Michigan's brass for this one: full-time active-duty service personnel may apply for a bar dues waiver under a rule the Michigan Supreme Court recently amended at the state bar's request.

The amendment, which takes effect Oct. 1, also permits waivers of the client security fund assessment and the attorney discipline system fee, although service personnel will remain subject to the attorney discipline system. Waivers may be granted up to four times.

The court adopted the amendment without taking comments or holding a public hearing. However, the court is soliciting comments through Nov. 1. A public administrative hearing will be scheduled after that date.

Instructions for submitting comments and the full text of amended Rule 4 of the Rules Concerning the State Bar of Michigan are available here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Grand Rapids lawyers go to bat for embattled district judge

The Grand Rapids Press and WOOD-TV reported over the weekend that some of the legal elite in the Grand Rapids area have asked the Attorney Grievance Commission to open an investigation against Judicial Tenure Commission Director Paul Fischer, accusing him of trying to extort the resignation of Rockford District Court Judge Steven Servaas.

A dozen former presidents of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, according to WOOD, and "prominent local attorneys," according to the Grand Rapids Press, signed a 26-page letter sent to the Attorney Grievance Commission, in which they claim that Fischer insisted that Servaas resign immediately or face criminal charges.

They point to a secret recording made in the judge's chambers that features Fischer explaining to Servaas how the JTC intended to proceed in the matter. The recording can be accessed by following the Grand Rapids Press link in the first paragraph of this post.

Servaas' supporters ask that Fischer be disbarred and that he shoulder the judge's estimated $200,000 in legal fees that have been racked up in the JTC proceedings against him.

According to the Grand Rapids Press:

"The latest salvo continues a dispute between Fischer and Servaas, who allegedly lived outside his judicial district, drew two sexually suggestive doodles and made a lewd comment to a co-worker at a retirement party."
Servaas' JTC hearing is scheduled for July 14.

An interesting wrinkle is that Servaas is running unopposed for re-election in November. If a misconduct finding against Servaas is made, Fischer wants the Michigan Supreme Court to remove him from the ballot, or to wait to remove him from office until his new term begins next year. See The Michigan Lawyer: Trial court elections: Whole lotta shakin' goin' on.

All-star cast at Western District bankruptcy seminar

The Bankruptcy Section of the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Michigan has an impressive roster of judges and practitioners lined up for its 20th annual seminar at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs later this month.

The seminar opens July 24 and runs through the 26th. Educational sessions on Chapters 7, 11 and 13 are available, along with a session on ethics and a review of Michigan bankruptcy case law by judges from other jurisdictions.

On the lighter side, bring your clubs and a hearty appetite: there is a golf outing, a reception and plenty of opportunities for some good eats.

Complete information here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

AGC and ADB appointments announced

The Michigan Supreme Court has reappointed several members of the Attorney Grievance Commission and has made chair and vice-chair designations.

Named in the court's press release:

"Jan A. Brandon of Ann Arbor, volunteer and past member of the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents.

"Kent J. Vana of Grand Rapids, partner in the law firm of Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett, LLP.

"Karen Woodside of Detroit, assistant prosecuting attorney, Wayne County.

"Brandon, Vana, and Woodside, all current members of the AGC, are reappointed to terms ending on Oct. 1, 2011. Vana is also appointed vice-chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009.

"Richard B. Poling, Jr. of Troy, attorney and shareholder in the law firm of Poling, McGaw & Poling, P.C. Already a member of the AGC, Poling is appointed chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009."
The court has also made leadership designations and has announced appointments and reappointments to the Attorney Discipline Board:
Craig H. Lubben of Kalamazoo, attorney and member of the law firm of Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, PLC. He is appointed to a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.

"William L. Matthews, CPA of West Bloomfield, former managing partner, Plante & Moran Financial Advisors. Already a member of the ADB, Matthews is reappointed for a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.

"Carl E. Ver Beek of Grand Rapids, attorney and of counsel to the law firm of Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett LLP. He is appointed to a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.

"William J. Danhof of Lansing, attorney and principal in the law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC. Already a member of the ADB, Danhof is reappointed for a term ending Oct. 1, 2011. He is also appointed chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009.

"ADB member Thomas G. Kienbaum of Birmingham, attorney and member of the law firm of Kienbaum, Opperwall, Hardy & Pelton, PLC. Kienbaum is appointed vice-chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

COA denies Wayne prosecutor's bid to disqualify 36th District Court bench

The Michigan Court of Appeals has turned down Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's application to disqualify the entire 36th District Court bench from conducting the preliminary examination of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and other charges.

The three-page order notes that in two prior cases where an entire judicial bench was disqualified, there was no analysis of the facts or any articulated analysis and, therefore, were of no help in this case.

Analyzing this case under MCR 2.003(B), the COA observed that even if some of the judges may be called as witnesses during the preliminary exam, "MCR 2.003(b)(6) requires the recusal of a judge only when 'the judge or the judge's spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person ... is to the judge's knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.' None of the judges who are proposed witnesses fall within this rule."

Click here for the full text of the order.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Trial court elections: Whole lotta shakin' goin' on

Ann Arbor attorney Doug Shapiro is all dressed up for the November circuit court election in Washtenaw County but says he doesn't want to go anywhere, at least not to the bench.

Earlier this year, it looked to be a no-challenger contest for incumbent judges David S. Swartz and Donald E. Shelton. Then, word got out that Shelton was on the short list of candidates for the vacant presidency of Eastern Michigan University. At the time, Shapiro said, according to an Ann Arbor News report, that "he would not enter the race until and unless Shelton got the EMU job."

But shortly thereafter, he filed candidacy petitions with almost double the signatures needed to get on the ballot. Time went by, along with the May 2 deadline for withdrawing from the race. Several days later, EMU chose Susan Martin as its new president.

So, now it's a three-way race for two seats on the Washtenaw circuit bench. But Shapiro hasn't raised any cash for his campaign. He says he's not asking people to vote for him because there's no opening "and we have two good judges."

Despite that statement, the Ann Arbor News says Shapiro is interested "in appearing in voters' guides and making himself available for other pre-election news-gathering efforts."

Shapiro says it's all a dress rehearsal for when there is an opening on the bench.

Over in Ingham County, there's a decidedly different situation in November. Voters will choose among six contenders to fill three seats on the circuit bench: incumbent judges William Edward Collette and Janelle A. Lawless; Rosemarie Elizabeth Aquilina, who's looking to step up from her job as chief judge of the 55th District Court; Hugh B. Clarke, Jr.; Frank Harrison Reynolds and Beverley Nettles-Nickerson.

Nettles-Nickerson would have been running as an incumbent judge but the Michigan Supreme Court removed her from office last month for several instances of misconduct. At the time, Nettles-Nickerson, who remains on the ballot, said that the voters would have the final word on the matter.

The Judicial Tenure Commission, acutely aware of that possibility, asked that she be removed from office and conditionally suspended without pay for six years in the event that she is re-elected in November. The supreme court removed her from office and made it clear that she was not an "incumbent" in the November election, but declined to impose the conditional suspension.

In Kent County, the Grand Rapids Press is reporting that the JTC is taking a similar stance in the case of Rockford District Court Judge Steven Servaas, who is running unopposed for re-election in November. The JTC has charged Servaas with living outside of his district, drawing two sexually related doodles and making a comment to a court worker that she said was sexual harassment. The JTC wants the Michigan Supreme Court to strike Servaas from the ballot. If that's not possible, the JTC wants Servaas removed from office at the beginning of his new term, Jan. 1, 2009.

A JTC hearing on the charges against Servaas is scheduled for July 14.

Meanwhile, over in the 23rd Circuit Court, which covers Arenac, Iosco, Alcona and Oscoda counties, incumbent judges Ronald Bergeron and William Myles are in a heated court battle with Tawas attorney Christopher Martin to again get him removed from the judicial ballot.

The Bay City Times reports that the Secretary of State removed Martin after reviewing Bergeron's and Myles' claims that Martin filed too few signatures to appear on the ballot. An Ingham County Circuit Court judge overruled the SOS and put Martin back on. The incumbents have filled a 200-page brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals, seeking to once again bounce him from the ballot.

No word on when the COA might issue a ruling.