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.

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Kallman named to State Bar’s Board of Commissioners

David A. Kallman, a family law practitioner in Lansing, has been appointed to the State Bar of Michigan’s Board of Commissioners.

The Michigan Supreme Court announced the appointment today.

Kallman, who is a home schooling champion, will serve a three-year term as a commissioner-at-large. He takes office Sept. 17.

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.

Grand Rapids lawyers go to bat for embattled district judge

The Grand Rapids Press and WOOD-TV reported over the weekend that some of the legal elite in the Grand Rapids area have asked the Attorney Grievance Commission to open an investigation against Judicial Tenure Commission Director Paul Fischer, accusing him of trying to extort the resignation of Rockford District Court Judge Steven Servaas.

A dozen former presidents of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, according to WOOD, and “prominent local attorneys,” according to the Grand Rapids Press, signed a 26-page letter sent to the Attorney Grievance Commission, in which they claim that Fischer insisted that Servaas resign immediately or face criminal charges.

They point to a secret recording made in the judge’s chambers that features Fischer explaining to Servaas how the JTC intended to proceed in the matter. The recording can be accessed by following the Grand Rapids Press link in the first paragraph of this post.

Servaas’ supporters ask that Fischer be disbarred and that he shoulder the judge’s estimated $200,000 in legal fees that have been racked up in the JTC proceedings against him.

According to the Grand Rapids Press:

“The latest salvo continues a dispute between Fischer and Servaas, who allegedly lived outside his judicial district, drew two sexually suggestive doodles and made a lewd comment to a co-worker at a retirement party.”

Servaas’ JTC hearing is scheduled for July 14.

An interesting wrinkle is that Servaas is running unopposed for re-election in November. If a misconduct finding against Servaas is made, Fischer wants the Michigan Supreme Court to remove him from the ballot, or to wait to remove him from office until his new term begins next year. See The Michigan Lawyer: Trial court elections: Whole lotta shakin' goin' on.

All-star cast at Western District bankruptcy seminar

The Bankruptcy Section of the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Michigan has an impressive roster of judges and practitioners lined up for its 20th annual seminar at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs later this month.

The seminar opens July 24 and runs through the 26th. Educational sessions on Chapters 7, 11 and 13 are available, along with a session on ethics and a review of Michigan bankruptcy case law by judges from other jurisdictions.

On the lighter side, bring your clubs and a hearty appetite: there is a golf outing, a reception and plenty of opportunities for some good eats.

Complete information here.

AGC and ADB appointments announced

The Michigan Supreme Court has reappointed several members of the Attorney Grievance Commission and has made chair and vice-chair designations.

Named in the court’s press release:

Jan A. Brandon of Ann Arbor, volunteer and past member of the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents.

Kent J. Vana of Grand Rapids, partner in the law firm of Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett, LLP.

Karen Woodside of Detroit, assistant prosecuting attorney, Wayne County.

“Brandon, Vana, and Woodside, all current members of the AGC, are reappointed to terms ending on Oct. 1, 2011. Vana is also appointed vice-chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009.

Richard B. Poling, Jr. of Troy, attorney and shareholder in the law firm of Poling, McGaw & Poling, P.C. Already a member of the AGC, Poling is appointed chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009.”

The court has also made leadership designations and has announced appointments and reappointments to the Attorney Discipline Board:

Craig H. Lubben of Kalamazoo, attorney and member of the law firm of Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, PLC. He is appointed to a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.

William L. Matthews, CPA of West Bloomfield, former managing partner, Plante & Moran Financial Advisors. Already a member of the ADB, Matthews is reappointed for a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.

Carl E. Ver Beek of Grand Rapids, attorney and of counsel to the law firm of Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett LLP. He is appointed to a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.

William J. Danhof of Lansing, attorney and principal in the law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC. Already a member of the ADB, Danhof is reappointed for a term ending Oct. 1, 2011. He is also appointed chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009.

“ADB member Thomas G. Kienbaum of Birmingham, attorney and member of the law firm of Kienbaum, Opperwall, Hardy & Pelton, PLC. Kienbaum is appointed vice-chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2009.”

COA denies Wayne prosecutor’s bid to disqualify 36th District Court bench

The Michigan Court of Appeals has turned down Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s application to disqualify the entire 36th District Court bench from conducting the preliminary examination of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and other charges.

The three-page order notes that in two prior cases where an entire judicial bench was disqualified, there was no analysis of the facts or any articulated analysis and, therefore, were of no help in this case.

Analyzing this case under MCR 2.003(B), the COA observed that even if some of the judges may be called as witnesses during the preliminary exam, “MCR 2.003(b)(6) requires the recusal of a judge only when ‘the judge or the judge’s spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person … is to the judge’s knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.’ None of the judges who are proposed witnesses fall within this rule.”

Click here for the full text of the order.