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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.