SBM past president off to Milwaukee, not DisneyWorld

There was a different spirit of 76 present at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, as W. Anthony Jenkins was sworn in today by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly as 76th president of the State Bar of Michigan.

As we reported in the Aug. 30, 2010, edition, he is going to make diversity and inclusion part of his platform for his 2010-11 term. In fact, he’ll do his best to put words into action this evening at the Bar’s Diversity Pledge reception, where attorneys of all backgrounds are being asked to sign a pledge saying they will promote a diverse workplace.

His immediate predecessor, Charles R. Toy, however, is still going be a fixture at the Bar. Not only is he on the Past Presidents Advisory Council, he’s going to work with the soon-to-premiere Master Lawyers Section in matching up members of the section (attorneys who are age 60 and older or have 30 or more years’ Bar membership) with new members of the Bar and law school students as part of the seasoned attorneys’ pro bono work.

And he’ll be going on tour in the next few months to Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., among other cities, as part of his day job as associate dean of career and professional development at The Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

“I’m not going to DisneyWorld,” he quipped after Jenkins’ swearing-in ceremony.

Considering, however, that as Bar president he got to travel across the state to meet with bar groups, judges, attorneys and legal organizations, it’s likely been just as thrilling as a run on Space Mountain.

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Asst. AG (Anti-Gay) III: Cox explains decision to keep Shirvell

[In case you missed them: Part I/Part II]

The saga of Andrew Shirvell and his vendetta against a college student continues, as his boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to explain his decision not to fire Shirvell. [Video of the interview at the link]

While Cox didn’t exactly defend Shirvell, calling him a bully, he said Shirvell has the right to publish the things he did under the First Amendment.

Democratic candidate for AG David Leyton has called for his Republican counterpart, Bill Schuette, to join him in calling for Shirvell to be fired.

UPDATE: From the Detroit News, Cox has now suspended Shirvell.

Attorney General Mike Cox changed his stance Thursday, suspending Andrew Shirvell after the assistant attorney general attracted national attention for a controversial blog that ridicules and denounces a University of Michigan student leader for his gay advocacy, religious beliefs and character.

The suspension came a day after Cox told CNN he didn’t intend to fire Shirvell, citing civil service rules that protect government employees from being "fired willy-nilly" for exercising their rights of free speech.

UPDATE II: From the Michigan Daily, the AG’s office says Shirvell took a leave of absence on his own accord.

SBM director waxes on effects of ‘beyond bad’ state of state at annual meeting

In her report to attendees of the 2010 Solo & Small Firm Institute — as part of the 2010 State Bar of Michigan annual meeting in Grand Rapids — Janet Welch, executive director of the State Bar of Michigan, was upfront about having bad news and good news.

First, the bad, which is the “beyond bad” state of the state, something that affects the court system and, in turn, lawyers.

The state’s per average capital income is the best way to measure how things stand in Michigan, she said, but there are grim numbers involved. In 1970, Michigan was 13th in the nation, but in 2000 it dropped to 19th, and in 2008, sank to 38th.

And citing the House Fiscal Agency’s ranking of Michigan in income growth, “We’re not only dead last, but we’re so far beyond 49th, we can’t even see 49th.”

For that, she turned to the SBM’s Judicial Crossroads Taskforce, a 13-month-old initiative to study and recommend ways for the court system to be saved and advanced in the wake of declining state revenues.

Though the task force’s final meeting isn’t for another few weeks, and the report’s results aren’t public yet, Welch weighed in on what could be recommended.

“In broadest terms, I think their report will call for a court system that’s simpler, more flexible, and more based on evidence-based results,” she said. “It will recognize that in some areas of the states we have more judges than needed, and in other areas, we don’t have enough. And it will say that we will need to measure that by an objective, evidence-based measure.”

One question the task force has asked is whether there’s something the court system can do to handle business disputes that can be perceived as friendly to the business community to help them feel better about staying in Michigan and, in effect, encourage other businesses to come here.

For that, she said, one committee in the task force is recommended a three-year private business docket in three of the biggest Michigan counties, where two or three judges would handle all business cases. She noted that other states that have tried such a program have had great results.

Finally, she said that the task force believes cost savings can only happen with better information systems in court, particularly via statewide e-filing in all state courts.

“The tools exist right now to make the court system more convenient, more accessible, more efficient … . We’re wasting money by not spending money to make that happen,” she said.

So, wasn’t there something mentioned about good news?

Well, Welch did say that the state of the SBM is “good — truly good.”

Given the reserves that SBM has built up by managing the way it delivers services to its members, and based on the current rate of consumption, she said that the SBM won’t have to raise dues for another eight more years.

That’s relief for a state where more and more lawyers are struggling professionally, but where dues are in the bottom percentage compared to other states. Welch pointed to that the fact there is no mandatory continuing legal education requirements as another advantage of practicing in Michigan.

She said the secret is being tech savvy, thus saving administrative costs where they count, and SBM members’ volunteer time helping offset things. An example of the latter, she added, is the launch of the Master Lawyer Section, which will replace the Senior Lawyers Section, and will allow the more experienced members of the bar to participate in pro bono programs and mentoring for younger attorneys.

Also, something she said that’s of “critical” importance is the upcoming triennial economics of law practice survey, which will be sent to bar members in October via e-mail and the SBM website.

Welch pointed to the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2008 Smith v. Khouri attorney fee ruling, for which the Court said the SBM’s previous survey was the most important resource in determining award of attorney fees.

But the Court also cited limitations within the survey, so Welch said the SBM has streamlined the new survey, which will be tailored in two different forms — one for private practice members, the other for all other members. The results will be published in early 2011, and there will be drawings and giveaways to help bolster participation.

Check back on our blog for more from the 2010 State Bar meeting.

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Asst. AG With Vendetta Against College Student Speaks to CNN’s Anderson Cooper

A couple weeks ago, I posted about Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, proprietor of the previously profiled “Chris Armstrong Watch,” through which he obsesses over a college student.

He was a guest on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to explain his crusade. Against a college student.

I think Cooper sums up the problem with his opening question:

You’re a state official. This is a college student. What are you doing here?

Shirvell said he’s got nothing personal against him. He said he’s doing it as a private citizen off of work time. Then he should explain how he knows so much about the “criminal” records of Chris Anderson and friends.

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Keeping Up With The Candidates: Rocky v. Peters

I’ve got to admit: Keeping Up With The Candidates is more fun when the candidates hate each other.

Which is why the race for governor has been rather lackluster? Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero have been so darn affable that Bernero can show up at a Snyder event and rather than being chased out by a torch and pitchfork wielding posse, he’s invited up on stage to address the group.

Even their TV ad campaigns are only lowering themselves to claims like “Virg Bernero spends too much on pencils.” Or something. Really? Where are the questions of someone’s citizenship? Or whether some distant relative is gay or Muslim or received a Christmas card from Nancy Pelosi? What have you done with our election process?!

And with Bernero so far back in the polls and seemingly not gaining much ground, the contest itself is starting to resemble a Lions road game.

But fear not, while the Snyder/Bernero race has turned into a buddy comedy starting John Travolta and Michael Keaton, other races, most notably the Congressional ones, feature the mudslinging and name-calling we’ve come to expect out of these things.

Most notably, the race for U.S. Congressman Gary Peters’s seat. Peters and his opponent, Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski, are like two bad sports talk radio partners: they simply disagree on everything, no matter what the issue. (Unless that issue is immigration, a hot button issue in which pandering to either side can seriously jeopardize your campaign. The latest way of explaining your position? Heighten protection on the border! [Appeal to Tea Party]. Crack down on employers who hire illegals! [Appeal to Hispanics]Peters and Raczkowski seem to agree on that.).

The two candidates have become cartoon caricatures of their respective parties. Peters gets painted as a flaming liberal who kowtows to the “socialist” liberal agenda and Raczkowski is deemed a tin-foil hat wearing ultra right-wing lunatic.

Case in point: this Freep summation of their positions on the only four issues in this election:

On the issues

Health care reform

Peters: Supported

Raczkowski: Wants to repeal

Gays in the military

Peters: Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy

Raczkowski: Keep the policy

Federal enforcement of medical marijuana laws

Peters: Wants Michigan voters’ legalization of medical marijuana implemented without federal interference

Raczkowski: Wants no further expansion of medical marijuana law

Immigration

Both candidates want the federal government to be more aggressive in protecting the borders, and they want penalties enforced for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Peters has released an ad detailing a South Dakota court case involving Raszkowski’s company, Star Tickets. The company is being sued by a concert promoter for allegedly “grossly underestimated the number of tickets sold to a concert,” causing $6 million in damages.

In response, Raszkowski has accused Peters of being Gary Peters.

He’s also filed a defamation lawsuit concerning the ad. (The suit seems awfully frivolous since the ad reports of a court case that exists.)

This week, the two met for a debate in front of the Oakland County Commissioners, among other guests. Needless to say, the meetin’ was acrimonious. You can watch the whole thing via the Oakland Press here if you are so inclined.

In the MyFox2 video embedded in the Mlive.com link, one of the Oakland County commissioners was asked if it was getting ugly. She replied “It’s not cute.”

And not even beer goggles are going to make it any prettier.

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Young leads in campaign cash in MSC race

Justice Robert P. Young Jr. has raised more money than his three closest contenders combined in the Michigan Supreme Court race.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Young, a Republican, has raised some $514,000, with newly named candidate Justice Alton T. Davis a distant second with $194,000.

Among the most interesting facts in the report is the amount of early support the Republican party has given Young and fellow Republican Mary Beth Kelly – $61,000 and $60,000 respectively – while the Democratic party has contributed less than $7,000 to Denise Langford Morris, and has not yet reported any contribution to Davis.

Young’s largest contributors thus far are health care, insurance and finance PACs, with the Michigan Health & Hospital Association Health PAC, Michigan Bankers Association PAC, Michigan Farm BureauPAC and Auto Club of Michigan PAC contributing $22,500, $15,000, $15,000 and $13,200. Davis’ single largest contributor is the Michigan Education Association PAC, which contributed $17,000.

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MSC amends MCRs

In recent administrative actions, the Michigan Supreme Court:

  • amended MCR 3.973, 3.975 and 3.976 to require a court to maintain a local foster care review board report in the court’s confidential social file, and ensure that all parties have had the opportunity to review the report before the court enters a dispositional order, dispositional review order, or permanency planning order. Courts also may include recommendations from the report in their orders under the new language. ADM File No. 2010-09.
  • amended MCR 6.201, which governs discovery in criminal proceedings, to include electronically recorded statements among the materials that must be furnished to other parties. ADM File No. 2008-38.
  • amended MCR 1.108, which governs computation of time periods prescribed or allowed by court orders or statutes, to include any day that a court has ordered a court closure. The time period would be extended to the next day the court is open. ADM File No. 2009-30.
  • proposed an amendment to MCR 2.002, which clarifies that if a party files a frivolous or malicious action, a court may deny the indigent party’s ability to proceed in forma pauperis. ADM File No. 2008-12.