Defense attorney group claims drug courts need overhaul

A report released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers claims that drug courts aren’t working as intended.

According to the NACDL, in a statement released along with its report, said “Drug courts — first created 20 years ago as an emergency response to an epidemic of drug-related criminal cases that clogged courts and prisons — have in many places become an obstacle to making cost-efficient drug abuse therapy available to addicts and reducing criminal case loads.”

Part of the problem, the NACDL asserts, is that drug courts frequently bypass the toughest cases.

“Well-intended prosecutors and judges, generally with little input from the defense bar, often limit entry to treatment to offenders most likely to solve their own problems while insisting that ‘harder cases’ go to jail, at considerable taxpayer expense. … Minorities, immigrants and those with few financial resources are often under-represented in drug court programs,” the NACDL continued.

The report recommends:

– Treating substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one

– Opening admission criteria to all those who need, want and request treatment

– Enforcing greater transparency in admission practices and relying on expert assessments, not merely the judgment of prosecutors

– Prohibiting the requirement of guilty pleas as the price of admission

– Urging greater involvement of the defense bar to create programs that preserve the rights of the accused

– Considering the ethical obligations of defense lawyers to their client even if they choose court-directed treatment

– Opening a serious national discussion on decriminalizing low-level drug use

Legal community mourns passing of Grand Rapids lawyer Alphonse Lewis Jr.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that Grand Rapids lawyer Alphonse Lewis Jr., 87, died last week of congestive heart failure at his home.

Lewis was one of the first black attorneys to practice in Grand Rapids. More from The Press:

Mr. Lewis spent years as one of only two black attorneys practicing in Grand Rapids after he joined Floyd Skinner’s legal practice in 1947. Until then, Skinner had spent 21 years as the only black attorney in the city.

When Mr. Lewis joined Skinner’s firm, black attorneys were forbidden from joining the American Bar Association, a rule which didn’t change until 1955. As a result, black attorneys joined forces in 1925 to form the National Bar Association.

Skinner had been denied admittance to the Grand Rapids Bar Association for years because of the color of his skin.

A graduate of the University of Michigan, Mr. Lewis told The Press in 1998 he made several trips to Detroit during the 1950s to encourage other black lawyers to move to Grand Rapids. But he said he must not have been very convincing, because for decades he remained one of the few blacks practicing in the city.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Lewis joined forces with Benjamin Logan, now a Grand Rapids District Court judge, and other black attorneys in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, Flint and other cities to create the Outstate Bar Association. That group gave way when communities began establishing their own black bar associations.

Cox can proceed with Waterstone prosecution

The Detroit News reports that Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Hathaway, despite some initial misgivings, has ruled that Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox can proceed with prosecuting former Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Mary Waterstone, who has been accused of allowing perjured testimony at a drug trial.

From The News:

Waterstone was charged with felony misconduct in March by the attorney general, who took over the case after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy stepped aside, citing a conflict of interest, and four other county prosecutors refused to take the case. …

Waterstone claimed Cox and his assistants should be barred from prosecuting her because an assistant attorney general represented her in a civil complaint related to the same case three years ago. …

Wayne County Circuit Judge Daniel Hathaway said that at first glance it appears the Attorney General might need to step aside, but Hathaway said several factors overcame his first impression.

Hathaway found:

– The attorney general’s civil and criminal divisions are in separate buildings and don’t routinely share information.

– The criminal division wasn’t aware when it charged Waterstone that the civil division had briefly represented her in a federal lawsuit filed by the alleged drug dealer sent to prison after the trials in which Waterstone is alleged to have allowed perjury. That suit was later withdrawn.

– No confidential information was shared with criminal investigators by the assistant attorney general in the civil division who spoke with Waterstone three times on the telephone.

– After the issuance of the felony complaints and discovery of the civil division’s prior involvement with the judge, Cox initiated a “conflict wall” or policy that Hathaway reasoned would “ensure that there was no contamination or unauthorized exposure between the various AAGs or staff.”

Can Cox prosecute Waterstone?

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Hathaway is expected to rule later today whether the Michigan attorney general’s office can prosecute former Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Mary Waterstone and others on charges related to perjured testimony at a 2005 drug trial.

Attorney General Mike Cox was brought into the case after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy disqualified herself. In addition to Waterstone, Karen Plants, a former Wayne County drug prosecutor, and two Inkster police officers are also being tried for perjury-related charges.

Waterstone argued that Cox shouldn’t be on the case because of a conflict in interest. His office defended her in Judicial Tenure Commission proceedings arising from the same incident.

Hathaway will sort it all out later today. If Cox is removed from the case, a special prosecutor will be appointed.

Long trail of campaign signs makes extra work for state police

Troopers of all sorts were busy last weekend handling campaign signs for Attorney General Mike Cox, who wants to be elected governor, and others who want to be the state’s next attorney general, according to Lansing State Journal columnist John Schneider.

Schneider’s column frequently serves as a soapbox for the outraged Everyman, in this case, a reader miffed about loyal political troopers who apparently pointed the way to the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference by placing campaign signs along the shoulder of I-75 north of Grayling.

To be clear, backers of several candidates participated in the signfest, but, according to Schneider’s column, signs for Cox and others vying for the state attorney general’s office were the most prevalent.

Schneider’s reader-informant, Phil Birdsall, said in Cheboygan county, there were “hundreds” of signs along the highway. In an e-mail to Schneider, Birdsall fumed:

“Every one of these signs was posted illegally on a public right-of-way, and here’s the kicker: Most of the signs were for Mike Cox (the state’s chief law enforcement officer), and potential candidates for Attorney General – the very office charged with enforcing the laws of the state.

“You won’t find a more arrogant disregard for the law anywhere, anytime.”

Other troopers, officers from the State Police Post in Gaylord, were dispatched to yank up the signs. At least 50 were removed in Otsego County alone, leading Sgt. Denny Reynolds to grumble that there were better uses of taxpayer money than picking up the signs.

Schneider tried getting a response from the AG but got the telephone run-around instead.

Guilty plea in massive Medicare scam

The Associated Press reports that a health care provider has pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to defraud the federal Medicare program out of $18.4 million.

The four-year scheme involved Medicare claims for physical therapy services that were never provided.

Suresh Chand pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money.

He’ll be sentenced in January and faces 30 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

GovDelivery acquires ‘Facebook for government,’ GovLoop

GovDelivery, a service provider that helps government bodies manage citizen communication such as e-mail alerts and RSS news feeds, has acquired Washington D.C.-based GovLoop. GovDelivery’s largest shareholder is Dolan Media Co. (NYSE:DM), which also owns Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

GovDelivery has more than 10 million users, and provides “government to citizen communication solutions,” according to the acquisition announcement. Between 10,000 and 100,000 new users sign up daily to receive updates on local parks, road closures, homeland security updates, and news about health issues such as the H1N1 virus.

More than 300 government entities use GovDelivery, and clients include the U.S. departments of Defense, State, Labor, Transportation, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, both houses of British Parliament. Other users include the states of California and Indiana, and the cities of Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis.

GovDelivery clients also include Macomb and Oakland counties, the cities of Ann Arbor and Fraser, the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) in Grand Rapids, the U.S. federal court system. GovLoop has nearly 150 members in Michigan.

“GovLoop has been called the Facebook for government, because it helps people across government collaborate and solve real problems every day,” said Scott Burns, CEO and co-founder of GovDelivery, in a statement.

The provider has more than 18,000 members, according to a company statement. The site enables people who work in and around government to connect with one another, socialize and support each other.

For more information, visit www.govdelivery.com. Members of the government community can join GovLoop at www.govloop.com.

MSC denies drug defendant’s appeal on 3-3 vote, Corrigan may testify for former judge in related case

The Michigan Supreme Court, on a 3-3 vote, has let stand the conviction of Alexander Aceval, the Inkster bar owner who pleaded guilty in a second criminal drug prosecution after his first conviction was tossed out because the trial judge, the prosecutor and two witnesses allegedly acquiesced to perjured testimony.

The 3-3 split resulted when Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan declined to participate in the appeal. Corrigan wrote, “I may be a witness in a related case.”

According to a report in The Detroit News, Corrigan has agreed to be a character witness for former Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Mary Waterstone, who presided over Aceval’s first trial. Waterstone, former Wayne County drug prosecutor Karen Plants, and two Inkster police officers now face felony charges arising from the perjury allegations in connection with Aceval’s first trial.

Here’s how the MSC’s voting went: Justices Elizabeth Weaver, Robert Young and Diane Hathaway voted, without comment, to deny the appeal.

Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly dissented from the denial, raising concerns that Aceval may have been denied the right to counsel of his choice.

She also said the Court should “address whether defendant was deprived of due process such that retrial should be barred. The prosecution acquiesced in the presentation of perjured testimony in order to conceal the identity of a confidential informant.”

Justice Stephen Markman also dissented.

False testimony was provided in this drug-related criminal prosecution, and the police, the assistant prosecutor, and trial court were apparently aware of this. Defendant’s first trial, at which the false testimony was offered, ended in a mistrial. Subsequently, the trial court allowed the prosecutor to initiate a second criminal prosecution, which resulted in a guilty plea. After remand from this Court, the Court of Appeals affirmed, and defendant now appeals to this Court. Because this is a remarkable case, I would grant leave to appeal for the exclusive purpose of determining whether, pursuant to the double jeopardy clauses of the United States Constitution, US Const, Am V, and the Michigan Constitution, Const 1963, art 1, sec 15, a second trial should have been barred.

Justice Michael Cavanagh joined in Markman’s dissent.

GOP weather report: A bit chilly for MSC’s Weaver

The weather was a mixed bag over the weekend on Mackinac Island, according to Misty, an employee at the Mackinaw City dock of Shepler’s Ferry, which did a swinging business shuttling politicos to and from the Michigan Republican Party’s leadership conference on the upscale state park.

Cool and windy on Friday, a pleasant Saturday and a Sunday that started off nice but deteriorated into clouds and rain, Misty helpfully reported when I called her this morning.

But for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver, there was a distinct chill in the air that had little to do with autumn blowing in on the straits as she tried to drum up some party support for her re-election bid in 2010.

Weaver, who has enjoyed GOP backing in the past, has famously squabbled with former Republican Chief Justice Clifford Taylor — who lost his re-election bid last year — and current GOP Justices Maura Corrigan, Robert Young and Stephen Markman.

It was not too long ago that Taylor, Corrigan, Young and Markman were a majority voting bloc on the Court — a bloc engineered by former Michigan Governor John Engler during his terms of office.

According to yesterday’s Capitol Capsule from the Michigan Information and Research Service, former Republican Speaker of the House Craig DeRoche “rebuffed Weaver’s personal request to support her re-nomination in 2010[.]“

Then, says the MIRS report

Engler poked some fun at Weaver at her expense.

In telling attendees of his Saturday evening dinner speech about his history with past Mackinac Island events, Engler quipped, “I go back to when Betty Weaver was actually a conservative judge.”

Later in his talk, Engler talked about the need to “find some help for (Justice) Bob Young on the Supreme Court. …

“We need Bob Young back on the Supreme Court. We can’t let the courts go back to being a have [sic - haven?] for trial attorneys,” Engler said.

Young, along with Weaver, faces re-election in 2010.

Whitmer files paperwork for AG candidacy

Michigan Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) made her bid for the state attorney general’s office official by filing candidacy paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office on Friday, reports The Grand Rapids Press.

According to a report in Friday’s Capitol Capsule from Michigan Information and Research Service,

Whitmer plans on continuing to run for her state Senate seat and if selected as the Democratic nominee in August of next year, the Ingham County Democratic party would pick a replacement candidate. Reps. Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing), Joan Bauer (D-Lansing), Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) and former State Rep. Paul DeWeese of Williamston would be considered likely candidates for the open seat.

The Michigan Republican Party was quick to go on the offensive.

“One has to ask, does Gretchen Whitmer want to be attorney general or does she just want to boost her ego,” said Greg McNeilly, Interim Executive Director.

“In her tenure in the state Legislature — whether the House or Senate — Whitmer has done more to add to partisan politics than she has to help benefit residents of the state. She’s a liberal elitist who prefers to build her resume at the expense of hard-working families. Michigan doesn’t need another Jennifer Granholm clone seeking fame and glory over the best interests of residents.”

Meanwhile, The Detroit News reports that former Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette was the favorite choice of GOPers’ attending the every-other-year Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island this past weekend.

Schuette led the attorney general’s race with 697 votes, or 57.51 percent. Mike Bishop got 446, and State Sen. Bruce Patterson got 69.