MSC: Emergency school manager oath-of-office case moot

Robert Davis, the Highland Park school board’s secretary who last week pleaded not guilty to federal charges of converting school district funds, has one less thing to worry about, courtesy of the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Court yesterday threw out his suit, Davis v. Emergency Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, which challenged Roy Roberts’ authority to serve as the emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools.

In May 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Roberts under MCL 141.1501 et seq., Michigan’s emergency manager law. Roberts went to work without taking an oath of office.

Davis, a vocal critic of the law who backs up his views with litigation, asked Attorney General Bill Schuette to initiate a quo warranto action, claiming that without the oath of office, Roberts had no authority to run the Detroit schools.

After Davis sought quo warranto relief, Roberts took the oath, and a few days later, Schuette declined Davis’s request.

Davis’s next stop was at the Court of Appeals, which also turned him down. In an order dated Oct, 6, 2011, the COA said Robert’s failure to immediately take the oath didn’t violate MCL 201.3(7), which meant the office of emergency manager “was not, and did not need to be, declared vacant.”

The COA also ruled that Roberts fixed the problem by taking the oath of office before Davis filed his COA action, and that before taking the oath, Roberts was functioning as a de facto officer.

The Michigan Supreme Court yesterday approved the result but not the reasoning.

[W]e VACATE that part of the of the Court of Appeals October 6, 2011 order providing the legal reasoning for the denial of the application.

In all other respects, the application for leave to appeal is DENIED as moot in light of the fact that Roy S. Roberts was reappointed to serve as Emergency Manager for the Detroit Public Schools, effective April 2, 2012, and he signed an Oath of Office on that date.

In a concurring statement, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. questioned whether an emergency manager is even constitutionally required to take an oath of office. Young said the issue need not be decided because the case was moot.

Young’s concurrence prompted Justice Stephen Markman to respond:

Given that the responsibilities of the emergency manager are, during extraordinary economic circumstances, to carry out the duties of the mayor and the members of the city council of a municipality, all of whom themselves are required to take oaths of office, it would seem anomalous that an official serving in their stead would not also be required to make the same commitment to the laws and constitutions of the United States and Michigan.

Judge chips away part of former Benzie sheriff’s pay dispute suit

Benzie Circuit Court Judge James M. Batzer has dismissed part of former Benzie County Sheriff Robert Blank’s retirement benefits lawsuit against the county.

At issue is $250,000 in past and future payments that Blank says he should be getting, according to a report in The Traverse City Record-Eagle.

“Blank retired from the sheriff’s department in 1997 as a sergeant, and draws about $1,300 a month in retirement benefits from that stint. The county said paying Blank additional retirement benefits for his eight years as sheriff would amount to ‘double-dipping,’” according to the report.

Chuck Clarke, a former county administrator, said that the county board could have okayed additional benefits beyond those collected by Blank under the Municipal Employee Retirement System of Michigan but the board “didn’t want to set that precedent.”

Roseville judge suspended without pay, censured by MSC for drunken driving

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a 90-day suspension without pay and has publicly censured Roseville District Court Judge Catherine Bove Steenland.

Steenland was arrested last spring in Ogemaw County for driving after drinking way too many beers.

According to a report in the Bay City Times, Steenland was on a trail that winds around a lake when she backed into a ditch. Her efforts to get the car out prompted witnesses to call 911.

Steenland had a blood alcohol level of .23 after her arrest. She pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while visibly impaired.

The Judicial Tenure Commission conducted discipline proceedings and recommended a 90-day suspension without pay, and public censure. The Michigan Supreme Court accepted the JTC’s recommendation in an order released yesterday afternoon.

The suspension is effective Dec.18.

In announcing its discipline of Steenland, the MSC observed:

The respondent has pled guilty to the commission of a misdemeanor designed to promote public safety. The commission of a crime by a judge erodes public confidence in the judiciary, which is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Why are we not surprised? Detroit mayor vetoes ouster resolution

Both of Detroit’s major dailies, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News are reporting this morning that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has vetoed the city council’s resolution asking Governor Jennifer Granholm to remove him from office.

The mayor’s veto message warns that removing elected officials is “irresponsible” and thwarts the will of the voters. Kilpatrick claims the council can remove him only if he’s convicted of a felony or lacks qualification to serve in office.

The initial responses from attorney William Goodman, retained by the city council to investigate the text-message scandal, to Kilpatrick’s veto message arguments: “brainless” (Detroit News) and “lunacy” (Detroit Free Press).

“[I]t’s an inherently preposterous concept that the mayor would have the power to veto the outcome of a City Council investigation (into him),” fumed Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel.

“The veto message speaks for itself,” says Kilpatrick spokesman James Canning.