SADO chief Neuhard is MiLW’s Lawyer of the Year

James R. Neuhard, director of Michigan’s State Appellate Defender Office, has been selected as the Lawyer of the Year by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

James R. Neuhard - I cant think of people who have more problems than the convicted.

James R. Neuhard - "I can't think of people who have more problems than the convicted."

Neuhard was chosen this afternoon from a group of lawyers who were given MiLW’s Leaders in the Law Award.

In the words of Glenda Russell, MiLW’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief:

Jim Neuhard represents those who are poor and imprisoned, those who much of society wishes would just disappear, or, at least, be treated as separate and unequal.

True, many of them are guilty, which does make them separate.

But Jim is that nagging voice inside all of our heads, that voice that says, “Yes, separate, but still protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.”

In other words, equal under the law.

Neuhard will barely have time to bask in the glory of being MiLW’s 2009 Lawyer of the Year. He’s due in Washington, D.C. early tomorrow to attend a Congressional hearing about the sorry state of Michigan’s indigent-defense system.

Our own Carol Lundberg will be there, too, to cover the hearing.

We’ll have more about Neuhard and the hearing in the March 30 issue of Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

Money and justice: Who’s really paying for judicial election campaigns?

“Tell God the truth but give the judge money,” is a Russian proverb, according to Poetic Justice, a compilation of quotes and sayings about the legal profession edited by Jonathan and Andrew Roth.

The proverb unabashedly alludes to the unseemly topic of bribing judges. Thankfully, instances of judges actually throwing cases for a fistful of cash are infrequent.

But what if the proverb were rewritten slightly?

“Tell God the truth but give the judge[‘s campaign finance committee] money.”

Now, there’s something that goes on all the time, with the full blessing of various campaign finance laws.

Sometimes the giving is extremely generous, in the form of so-called “issue advocacy” advertising. The real givers can remain anonymous, which also occurs with the full blessing of various campaign finance laws.

For that situation, there’s a Danish proverb collected in Poetic Justice that seems appropriate: “Justice oft leans to the side where your purse hangs.”

Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network had an opinion piece in yesterday’s Lansing State Journal.

Robinson gave a quick synopsis of the Caperton v. Massey case, recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is whether a litigant’s due process rights were violated when a judge did not recuse himself from the case because the other litigant spent $3 million to help get the judge elected. The Michigan Lawyer‘s take on the subject, click here.

Robinson asked his readers:

What does this mean to Michiganders? Plenty.

In 2008, we witnessed a $7.3 million Michigan Supreme Court campaign. Over half the money in that campaign – $3.8 million – paid for television “issue” ads that were never disclosed in any campaign finance report. That is nothing new.

Since 2000, Michigan Supreme Court candidate committees have raised and spent $13.1 million for 10 seats on the court, while the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the state Democratic and Republican Parties have spent $14.3 million for television ads that sought to define the candidates’ character, qualifications and suitability for office, while coyly avoiding any direct mention of voting for or against a candidate.

In Michigan, that means the groups that bought the ads don’t have to tell us who gave them the money. That means that an interest group that spent $1 million to elect a justice doesn’t have to identify itself in the public record. And when its favored justice votes in a case worth millions of dollars to the interest group, its opponent in the case may not even know its due process right to an unbiased hearing has been gravely compromised.

In other words, we may have had our own Caperton affairs, flying below the radar.

Robinson concludes that it’s just great that the Michigan Supreme Court is considering new recusal standards for itself. But he also wants the Legislature to become involved.

There’s a great opportunity to become informed about the topic on March 18 at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The Cooley Law School’s Law Review Annual Symposium is “Supreme Court Election Campaigns: A Threat to Fair and Impartial Courts.”

More information here and here.

Honest to a fault

“The plaintiff’s employment was terminated because he threatened to file a lawsuit against this company.”

Schmidt Industries’ extremely truthful response to Patrick Shelson’s interrogatories in a case where Shelson claimed he was canned in retaliation for exercising his rights under the workers’ comp act.

From the Court of Appeals unpublished decision in Shelson v. Schmidt Industries, Inc.:

According to plaintiff, defendant’s owner, David Schmidt, allegedly became quite upset on July 16 when he learned that plaintiff’s doctor did not release him to return to work until July 19, and told plaintiff that if he did not return to work the next day he would “suffer the consequence,” because “it was costing him entirely too much money for [plaintiff] to be on comp [sic].” Plaintiff was placed on light duty work upon his return to work on July 19, and Schmidt told him that he was not working fast enough and that he needed to “speed things up.” Plaintiff was heard threatening to sue defendant, and was thereafter discharged from his employment.

The jury found for Shelson on his retaliation claim.

The COA noted that on appeal, Schmidt raised “a myriad of issues, none of which challenge the evidence supporting the conclusion that plaintiff was discharged for exercising his rights under the WDCA.”

In particular, the COA ruled that Schmidt waived a contractual three-month limit on Shelson being able to sue by not raising the limitation defense until the suit was more than a year old and discovery had closed.