Child abuse registry can be unfair, lawsuit says

The state unfairly placed several parents on a list of alleged child abusers that negatively affected those people’s abilities ability to get jobs and other benefits, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Michigan. [MLive.com]

The suit alleges that some people were wrongly placed on the Michigan Central Registry of Child Abuse following child-protective services investigations, even when the ensuing investigation didn’t find evidence of abuse.

“The listing procedure is subjective, one-sided and automated,” attorney Elizabeth Warner wrote in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court.

“At the end of a CPS (child-protective services) investigation, the investigator becomes the judge and pronounces the accused to be guilty and unsafe to be around children (called a ‘substantiation’). The CPS worker then clicks a computer key to put an individual on the Central Registry – for life – with no neutral prior hearing to determine if the investigator’s accusation is true.”

In four cases documented by MLive, the people were put on the list without their knowledge. In one case, a woman was put on the list when her son alleged his father beat him and bit his lip to create an injury. The son later admitted lying about the incident. In another, a woman was put on the list when she returned an adopted daughter to the state so she could receive mental health treatment they couldn’t afford to give the child.

The problem, according to the lawsuit, is that the state shares the identity of those on the list with prospective employers during background checks. In each of the four cases MLive documented, were denied work or parental rights because of automatic placement on the list.

Expunction from the list is a long and arduous process, Warner told MLive.

Citizenship checkbox off of ballot applications

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has decided to remove the controversial citizenship verification checkbox from ballot applications for next month’s election. [The Detroit News].

The state’s chief elections officer appeared in U.S. District Court in Detroit in a hearing over whether check-off boxes that ask state voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship status on ballot applications should be allowed in November.

The ACLU of Michigan, SEIU, the Ingham County clerk and others claim Johnson’s citizenship question caused widespread voter confusion in the August primary after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation in July that would have made inclusion of the question state law.

After the voting rights coalition sued Johnson on Sept. 17 over unequal enforcement of the citizenship question in the August primary, Johnson’s office issued a “News You Can Use” memo to election clerks across the state on Sept. 25 ordering the removal of the question from forms for the presidential contest.

It’s hard out here for a public defender

Poor Dan Hall.

The South Carolina public defender attorney was filling in for a colleague at the sentencing hearing for defendant Lamarcus Williamson. It was near the end of the work day — his birthday, no less. At the hearing, Williamson was sentenced to 15 years for robbery, drug and assault.

On his way out, he gave Hall something, and it wasn’t a birthday gift.

The good news is that Hall was fine, suffering a bloody mouth, and perhaps a thick lip.

The judge gave Williamson six more months in jail for the attack. Not like he’ll notice.

[HT: Bitter Lawyer]

Bar closing kills challenge to smoking ban

A Macomb county bar owner’s challenge of the Michigan Clean Indoor Air Act failed because he closed his business and had no intention of reopening it, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in the unpublished Department Macomb County Health Dept. v. Boyd Cottrell.

Cottrell owned the fantastically named Sporty O’Tooles [sic]. He challenged the county health department’s enforcement of the MCIAA, of which the department caught him violating on more than a few occasions, according to the opinion.

But Cottrell closed the bar, losing his standing to fight future enforcement of the act.

Here, defendant’s bar was cited multiple times by the Health Department for violating the smoking ban on multiple occasions. Defendant responded by suing to enjoin the smoking ban’s enforcement, arguing that the law was unconstitutional under, inter alia, an equal protection theory.

Did he? The caption suggests he filed a motion as part of a hearing to do with one of his violations. Anyway…

At oral argument, defendant revealed that the bar has gone out of business since this litigation was initiated, and further revealed that defendant has no plans to reopen another bar. The Health Department indicated at oral argument that, because defendant’s bar has closed, it could no longer seek to sanction defendant’s bar for violations of the smoking ban. In short, it is impossible for us to grant the relief requested by defendant. Defendant is now out of business— accordingly, enjoining the ban’s enforcement would not provide him any relief. Moreover, because defendant has no plans to reopen, the continued enforcement of the smoking ban will not continue to affect him in a collateral way.

Farewell, Sporty O’Tooles, we hardly knew ye.

SCAO reveals new look to website

Behold! Your tax dollars at work!

Michigan Courts - One Court of Justice

The Michigan judiciary unveiled a new look at its website, www.courts.mi.gov. The new site offers pretty much everything the old one did, but is designed to be better organized, said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. in a press release.

“I used to joke that our old web site was where information went to die,” said Young. “We have a wealth of content, but it hasn’t always been easy to find. This new site is much easier to navigate, making the content more accessible to everyone – the public as well as the legal community.”

Young said the site remains an ongoing project aimed at making it more user friendly for lawyers and the public at-large.

After clicking about for a few minutes, I’d say the goal of making a better looking and more accessible site has been met, at least when compared to the past site. Searching for appellate case status is still searching for a needle in a haystack in some cases. Perhaps the court could add an advanced search capability that would allows the user to remove, say, all criminal or civil cases from a search. This would improve the ease of searching for certain cases, particularly for instances where the party name is fairly common. With the old site, it was difficult at times to search for a case using a party name or attorney name.

MSC orders amendments to summary disposition, default judgment rules

The Michigan Supreme Court approved a slew of court rule amendments on October 3. The amendments were made to MCR 3.979, MCR 2.116, MCR 2.603  and MCR 9.113(A).

Perhaps the two with the widest effect on the industry are the changes to MCR 2.116 and 2. 603. Both amendments were discussed in the most recent administrative conference on September 27.

The amended MCR 2.603 allows for entry of a default judgment if “the damages amount requested isn’t greater than the amount stated in the complaint.”

The amended MCR 2.116 adds forum selection agreement as grounds for summary disposition under subsection (C)(7).

The remaining two amendments affect juvenile guardianships and grievance procedure. MCR 3.979 was changed to allow continuing court jurisdiction over a guardianship if the Department of Human Services continues to provide subsides after a ward reaches the age of 18, and to require annual review hearings in such cases.

MCR 9.113 was amended to give the grievance administrator “discretion to withhold all or part of respondent’s answer and any supporting documents from the person who filed the request for investigation.” [From staff comment].

Campaign finance controversy hits Oakland judicial race

In “The Distinguished Gentleman,” Eddie Murphy’s character won a congressional election on name recognition alone after his predecessor with a similar name died in office. Murphy’s character, Thomas Jefferson Johnson, shortened his name after Rep. Jeff Johnson died, staying out of the media and running on the slogan “the name you know.”

Since the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2010 decision in polarizing Citizens United decision, pundits have pontificated about the potential effect of unfettered spending on our presidential and congressional elections. And, of course, if you don’t watch everything on television from a DVR, you’re seeing those effects. (One thing is evident: the Moroun family has a lot of money to spend on television ads).

But perhaps not enough was made on the potential effect on local elections, where candidates generally aren’t funding their campaigns with million (or should I say billions) of dollars of other people’s money. A person with a lot of money to burn could tilt the balance of an election by allowing a candidate to flood the media with ads that the opponent couldn’t possibly match.

According to Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson, that may be happening in Oakland County circuit judge elections.

We know some anonymous donor is trying to buy himself a couple of seats on the Oakland County Circuit Court.

We know he’s dishonest.

We know he’s a coward.

We know he’s prepared to spend upward of $1.2 million on behalf of two little-known candidates who have made themselves scarce on the campaign trail and appear to have raised little or no campaign funds of their own.

The two candidates supported in advertising bought by the anonymous donor are both members of Attorney General Bill Schuette’s staff, William Rollstin and Deborah Carley. Both Rollstin and Carley are former Detroit area prosecutors. Carley was the chief deputy prosecutor under former Oakland prosecutor David Gorcyca. She left the office shortly before current prosecutor Jessica Cooper took over. Rollstin was a drug prosecutor in Wayne County.

Carley and Rollstin seem to have taken a page from Jeff Johnson: Their ads are plastered all over airwaves, but the candidates themselves are lying low.

Neither has made many public appearances since a political action committee bankrolled entirely by three conservative GOP donors based in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Virginia paid for the collection of petition signatures and other organizing expenses earlier this year. And neither participated in a videotaped candidates forum sponsored by the Oakland County League of Women Voters, the Oakland County Bar and the Free Press earlier this month.

Dickerson said neither of them responded to his calls or emails seeking comment.

The groups paying for the ads are “Americans for Job Security” and “Judicial Crisis Network.” Of the five judges running for re-election, the ads seem to be specifically targeting Oakland Circuit Judge Phyllis McMillen. Three of the other four judges were appointed by John Engler. The fifth judge, Leo Bowman, was appointed by Jennifer Granholm.