Foster Care Review Board names three for exemplary child advocacy

Marquette County Probate Judge Michael J. Anderegg, attorney Rubina Mustafa and Department of Human Services caseworker Jeannine Benedetti have been named as recipients of Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) awards for their leadership and advocacy on behalf of children.

Jim Novell, who serves as Program Manager of the FCRB, said that the awards are given for exemplary rendering of service on behalf of abused and neglected children and families served by our state child welfare system.

“The recipients stand out not only for their professionalism and performance, but also for their dedication,” Novell said.

Anderegg received the board’s Jurist Award. The FCRB noted Anderegg’s “efforts to ensure safe and timely permanency for the children who come under his jurisdiction,” adding that the judge “has made significant contributions … in caring for our state’s most vulnerable children and families.”

Mustafa received the Lawyer-Guardian Ad Litem Award. The FCRB praised Mustafa as a zealous advocate who “goes above and beyond the statutory responsibilities of a L-GAL, remaining accessible to her clients at all hours and always looking for ways to push them toward

Benedetti was presented with the Foster Care Caseworker Award. In naming Benedetti for the award, the FCRB cited her “tireless advocacy,” noting that “she is a mentor, listening ear, and friend” who makes herself available outside of working hours to assist her young clients.

The FCRB, which was created by the Michigan legislature in 1981, serves as a statewide system of third-party review of the foster care system. The program is administered by the State Court Administrative Office, the administrative agency of the Michigan Supreme Court, and is comprised of citizen volunteers who serve on one of 30 local review boards throughout the state.

Mary Beth Kelly criticized as her appointment set to expire

From the Metro Times, several Wayne County judges and departments are apparently displeased with the leadership of Chief Circuit Judge Mary Beth Kelly, whose appointment as Chief Judge expires at the year’s end.

Critics of Kelly — who came to the bench as an appointee of Republican Gov. John Engler in 1999 — sometimes characterize her policies as part of an effort by outstate conservatives to control leaders in the more liberal Detroit. They say some of her actions reflect the region’s longtime inability to come to terms with racial issues. She’s not making the correct, albeit difficult, decisions about how to effectively manage governmental operations with limited dollars, they say. And she should be stopped.

"I say Mary Beth Kelly has got to go," Detroit City Councilwoman Brenda Jones told one gathering held to "learn about the injustices taking place in our court system."

Defenders in the story call her fair-minded and say that her biggest problem is that she “came to power in an unusual way.

State bill would freeze two local judge seats

“The verdict from Allegan and Ottawa counties is clear — they want to keep their circuit court judges,” The Holland Sentinel is reporting.

“A proposal in the state Senate designed to save money would reduce the number of judges in several counties, though not permanently….

“Ottawa County has four circuit court judges: Chief Judge Edward Post and judges Calvin Bosman, Jon Hulsing and Jon Van Allsburg.

“The bill would keep open any circuit court position now occupied by a judge over the age of 70 who, by law, cannot run for another term in the November election.”

Appeals Court affirms conviction of Sanford man in stabbing at Midland hotel

“A state Court of Appeals has upheld a jury’s conviction of a Sanford man serving 17 months to four years for felonious assault,” reports The Bay City Times.

“Aaron K. Miller, 42, claimed he was denied a fair trial because the victim, Ryan Hackler, failed to show up to testify.

“A jury convicted Miller of one count of felonious assault stemming from the Oct. 27, 2006, stabbing at Valley Plaza Resort, 5221 Bay City Road in Midland.”


Sharply divided MSC amends judicial disqualification rule

The Michigan Supreme Court has published amendments to MCR 2.003 – Disqualification of Judge.

The upshot is that if a justice is challenged on conflict-of-interest grounds and decides no conflict exists, a party to the proceeding can ask that the entire Court vote on the matter.

The Court approved the amendments at its Nov. 5 public administrative conference although no order adopting the amendments was issued at that time.

The Court’s 4-3 order, issued last week only hours before the start of the long Thanksgiving weekend, consists of 3 1/2 pages of actual amendments and 54 1/2 pages of concurring statements, dissenting statements and appendices.

A sampling:

In adopting this rule, the Michigan Supreme Court has, for the first time in its long history, reduced to writing a rule to govern when a justice should not vote on a case. In the past, the justices wrote rules on recusal but applied them to other judges only, not to themselves.
Some of use have long believed that the interests of the legal community and of the general public are best served if a Supreme Court recusal rule is put in writing. In that way, all can see and understand something that has long been shrouded in mystery: how recusal works in the Michigan Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly

For the first time in our state’s history, duly elected justices may be deprived by their co-equal peers of their constitutionally protected interest in hearing cases. Starting today, those contesting traffic tickets will enjoy greater constitutional protections that justices of this Court. …
This is truly a sad day for this Court, the citizens of Michigan, and for the judicial elective system that our citizens have mandated.
Justice Maura Corrigan

Voting for the amended rule: Kelly and Justices Michael Cavanagh, Elizabeth Weaver and Diane Hathaway. Voting against: Corrigan, and Justices Robert Young and Stephen Markman.

Right and Left Join Forces on Criminal Justice

From The New York Times, an interesting story about liberal and conservative groups that agree that law enforcement agencies are going too far.

In the next several months, the Supreme Court will decide at least a half-dozen cases about the rights of people accused of crimes involving drugs, sex and corruption. Civil liberties groups and associations of defense lawyers have lined up on the side of the accused.

Edwin Meese III, a former attorney general, once referred to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of the “criminals’ lobby,” but on this issue, he says, he is willing to work with the group.

But so have conservative, libertarian and business groups. Their briefs and public statements are signs of an emerging consensus on the right that the criminal justice system is an aspect of big government that must be contained.

The development represents a sharp break with tough-on-crime policies associated with the Republican Party since the Nixon administration.

Attorney who investigated Judge Steven Servaas will not face Discipline Board, grievance panel rules

From The Grand Rapids Press:

The state Attorney Grievance Commission has ruled that Judicial Tenure Commission Executive Director Paul Fischer does not have to face a disciplinary panel for his investigation of Kent County District Judge Steven Servaas.

In a terse pronouncement Nov. 17, the grievance commission reviewing a complaint against Fischer ruled “no further action is warranted.” As required in such cases, it gave no indication why.

More than a dozen prominent local lawyers, including former presidents of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, filed a grievance seeking sanctions against Fischer in July 2008. The attorneys alleged Fischer tried to extort Servaas’ resignation.

The grievance commission evidently did not agree.

Macomb cuts rile prosecutor

From The Detroit News:

A battle over the budget turned ugly in Macomb County on Tuesday as the prosecutor vowed to sue over cuts he says will cripple his department’s ability to keep offenders off the streets.

The county board’s budget committee on Tuesday approved reductions for Prosecutor Eric Smith and Sheriff Mark Hackel over the vehement objections of both.

"We’re looking at chaos," Smith said. "Some of our prosecutors are handling over 100 files in some district courtrooms. That’s not adequate representation for the victims of crime in this county."

Defense lawyer in ‘Billionaire Boys Club’ scheme indicted


From The Detroit News:

The attorney representing the Brighton businessman accused in an alleged $53 million "Billionaire Boys Club" Ponzi scheme has himself been indicted for a criminal investment fraud scheme.

Gregory Bartko, the Georgia attorney representing John J. Bravata, his wife Shari Bravata, and his son Antonio Bravata on civil fraud charges brought in Detroit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is named in a six-count federal indictment handed down in North Carolina, according to court papers filed today.

Bartko, 56, along with a California man, are accused of running an interstate scheme to profit from the fraudulent sale of investments starting in 2004. He faces charges that include conspiracy, false statements, obstruction, and mail fraud.

MSC seeks comment on revisions and additions to MRPC

The Michigan Supreme Court has published for comment large-scale revisions to the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, including the addition of several new rules.

The proposed new rules and revisions are an outgrowth of a previous proposal, which the Court administrative closed at the beginning of the year.

Among the potentially affected rules:

* Rule 1.5 – Fee Agreements. Two alternatives are proposed, one from the Attorney Grievance Commission.

* Rule 1.7 – Conflict of Interest. The rule would be revised to provide general guidance on conflicts involving current clients.

* Rule 1.8 – Conflict of Interest. The revisions provide specific rules regarding current clients.

* Rule 3.1 – Meritorious Claims and Contentions. The rule’s commentary would make clear that while a lawyer cannot pursue a frivolous action, the lawyer is not responsible for a client’s subjective motion for the action.

* Rule 3.3 – Candor Toward the Tribunal. One proposed revision would impose a duty on lawyers to correct a false statement of material fact previously made to a tribunal.

* Rule 3.4 – Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel. The proposed revision would clarify that a lawyer may not ask someone other than a client to refrain from voluntarily giving relevant information to another party unless the person is “an employee or other agent of a client for the purposes of MRE 801(d)(2)(D).”

* Rule 3.5 – Impartiality and Decorum of the Tribunal. The proposal specifies circumstances in which a lawyer may contact a juror after the jury is discharged.

* Rule 3.6 – Trial Publicity. Two alternatives are proposed, one from the State Bar of Michigan.

* Rule 5.4 – Professional Independence of a Lawyer. The proposal involves fee-sharing agreements.

* Rule 5.5 – Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice of Law. The rule provides guidelines for lawyers temporarily appearing in Michigan.

* Rule 8.5 – Disciplinary Authority; Choice of Law. The proposed rule specifically gives discipline authorities jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the ethics violations of attorneys temporarily admitted to
practice in Michigan.

New rules under the proposal include:

* Proposed Rule 2.4 – Lawyer Serving as Third-Party Neutral. The proposed rule is designed to help parties involved in alternative dispute resolution to better understand the role of a lawyer serving as a third-party neutral.

* Proposed Rule 5.7 – Responsibilities Regarding Law-Related Services. The proposed rule would govern circumstances in which a lawyer provides law-related services. The rule establishes a presumption that the MRPC apply unless rebutted by evidence that the lawyer has explained that no attorney-client relationship exists with respect to ancillary services.

* Proposed Rule 6.6 – Nonprofit and Court-Annexed Limited Legal Services Programs. The proposed rule deals with the interplay between conflict of interest concerns and providing volunteer short-term legal services through nonprofit organizations, court-related programs, and legal-advice hotlines.

Comments on the proposals may be sent to the Clerk of the Michigan Supreme Court in writing or electronically by March 1, 2010, at P.O. Box 30052, Lansing, Michigan 48909, or