Upcoming bankruptcy conferences

There’s still time to register for two conferences geared toward bankruptcy practitioners.

The first, sponsored by the Consumer Bankruptcy Association, offers practical advice on obtaining “Administrative Relief for Student Loan Debtors.”

According to the CBA, “The Department of Education litigates hardship discharges vigorously, and will move to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Find out how to avoid these issues in your cases.”

The featured speaker is Dawn Scaniffe, General Attorney, Office of the General Counsel Department of Education.

The registration deadline is Oct. 1. Details here.

On Nov. 11, the American Bankruptcy Institute, in partnership with the Detroit Consumer Bankruptcy Association, is sponsoring The Sixth Annual Detroit Consumer Bankruptcy Conference.

The conference features an all-star line-up of bankruptcy judges and practitioners.

From the ABI:

This year’s program will again address the topics that consumer practitioners need: the latest from the Supreme Court and the lower courts and what’s left of good faith in bankruptcy, as well as an extensive series of breakout sessions on exemptions, lien -stripping, tax issues, means testing, asset cases, claims against creditors, objections to claims, legal writing and oral argument, and mortgage-modification news.

A special highlight will be our keynote luncheon speaker, former ABI Resident Scholar Prof. Lois Lupica of the University of Maine School of Law, who is investigating fees in consumer cases nationwide.

Registration information here.

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Three reappointed to ADB

The Michigan Supreme Court has reappointed three members to the Attorney Discipline Board.

  • William J. Danhof of Lansing, attorney and principal in the law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC. Danhof is reappointed as the ADB’s chair for a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.
  • ADB vice-chair Thomas G. Kienbaum of Birmingham, attorney and member of the law firm of Kienbaum, Opperwall, Hardy & Pelton, PLC. Kienbaum is reappointed to a second full term as a member of the ADB for a term ending Oct. 1, 2013. He is also reappointed vice-chairperson for a term ending Oct. 1, 2011.
  • ADB member Rosalind E. Griffin, M.D., of Farmington Hills, psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Griffin is appointed to a first full term as a member of the ADB for a term ending Oct. 1, 2013.

The ADB appoints three-attorney panels, composed of volunteers, which hear attorney misconduct matters and recommend sanctions against attorneys who violate ethics rules. The ADB also may review a hearing panel’s decision and can affirm or alter the level of discipline.

The ADB consists of six attorneys and three non-attorneys appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court; the appointees serve on a volunteer basis.

Americans unaware of how SCOTUS works

NEW YORK, N.Y. – September 23, 2010 – As the first Monday in October looms and the U.S. Supreme Court and its newly confirmed justice, Elena Kagan, look ahead to hearing new arguments, The Harris Poll asked Americans their awareness and opinions about some of the court’s practices.  Although the Supreme Court heads one of the three branches of the U.S. government, two in five Americans (42%) say they are not knowledgeable about the Supreme Court confirmation process.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,775 adults surveyed online between August 9 and 16, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

Almost three in five (58%) Americans say they are knowledgeable about the process, with 14% saying they are very knowledgeable and 44% saying they are somewhat knowledgeable.  However, Americans,65 and older (74%) and men (71%) are more likely to say they are knowledgeable on this compared to younger Americans, those 18-33, and women (both 46%).

During the confirmation process, however, a strong majority of Americans agree that nominees to the Supreme Court should be required to answer questions on specific issues (81%) and how they would vote in specific court cases, both past cases and hypothetical ones (63%) while just over half feel they should answer questions about their personal life (54%).  Older Americans seem to be more strongly in favor of some of these types of interviews than are younger Americans, though.  Over four in five (84%) of both Americans aged 46-64 and 65 and older agree that nominees should be required to answer questions about their views on specific issues, compared to three-quarters of those aged 18-33 who say the same (76%).  Older Americans are also more likely to agree that nominees should be required to answer questions about their personal life (58% of those 46-64, and 68% of those 65 and older), compared to less than half of younger Americans (47% of those 18-33 and 48% of those 34-45), who say the same.

Older Americans are not the only ones who feel strongly about what should be required during these pre-confirmation interviews.  Over three-quarters of Republicans (76%) say nominees should be required to say how they would vote in specific court cases, including both past and hypothetical ones, compared to 54% of Democrats and 63% of Independents who say the same.  Similarly, 71% of Republicans think nominees should be required to answer questions about their personal life, compared to less than half of Democrats (49%) and Independents (49%) who think it’s important.

Type of Supreme Court Justice

When asked what type of person Americans would most like to see on the Supreme Court, half (51%) said someone who keeps their personal opinions of “right” and “wrong” to themselves and makes decisions strictly based on the letter of the law and the Constitution. One-third of Americans say they would prefer an independent thinker who uses creativity and an understanding of modern circumstances to inform their legal rulings (32%), just 6% say they would want someone who uses their own values or moral compass to guide their decisions, and one in ten are not at all sure what type of person they prefer (11%).

Looking by political party, a clear majority of Republicans (67%) prefer justices who make decisions based strictly on the letter of the law and the Constitution.  Democrats are more split-45% say they prefer an independent thinker who uses creativity and an understanding of modern circumstances, while 38% say they prefer someone who makes decisions based strictly on the letter of the law.

Although all Americans don’t agree about all Supreme Court practices, they do say that the Court is a crucial governing body for the success of the United States (69%).  In a sometimes rare show of similar opinion concerning policy, Republicans (71%), Democrats (74%), and Independents (70%) all agree on this point.  Interestingly, women show more uncertainty on this, as 65% say that the Supreme Court is a crucial governing body for the success of the United States, compared to three-quarters of men (75%) who say the same.  Just one in ten (10%)  women say that the Supreme Court is not necessary-decision making power should lay within the state courts, and over one-quarter of women are not at all sure (26%).

So what?

Each time there is a Supreme Court confirmation, the debate begins anew as to whether these are productive or not. The confirmation process for Elena Kagan was no exception as she sustained rounds of hearings prior to being confirmed.  One argument is the Senate should innately “trust” a President’s nomination and just provide “advice and consent.”  However, the American public seems fairly strongly in favor of these interviews, at least on certain topics.  Americans also broadly approve of the Supreme Court, yet many say they are not knowledgeable about its practices.  This may call for better education in schools on the Supreme Court, which appears may have fallen off in recent years, considering the numbers of younger Americans’ knowledge, or lack thereof, compared to that of older Americans.

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between August 9 to 16, 2010 among 2,775 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The full data tables associated with this release can be found here.

Court recorder jailed for not producing transcripts

It’s one thing for the police or the prosecutor to lose evidence, but when an entire preliminary examination is lost because the court reporter is incompetent, it’s time for a change.

Paulette Martin, an official reporter for Detroit’s 36th District Court, has gone from writer’s block to cell block.

Martin is serving a 30-day contempt sentence in the Wayne County Jail for repeatedly missing deadlines to produce an overdue court proceeding transcript — the first court reporter to receive such a stiff sentence for failing to complete her duties.

The jail term also covers her allegedly absconding from an earlier sentence by fleeing the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, where she had been given five days to transcribe the record of a lengthy preliminary examination.

"We just can’t tolerate this," said Presiding Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, who locked up Martin.

"And this isn’t the first time" Martin has stalled cases, he said.

According to the Detroit Free Press story, Kenny tried several ways to get Martin to produce the missing transcript. He set up a workstation for her and had lunch ordered in for her so she could work on it. He offered to trade a five-day jail sentence for a finished transcript. But rather than deliver the transcript, she ran.

What transcript did Martin have was incomplete, as 61 pages of a 300-page transcript were missing, supposedly because one of the tapes couldn’t be found.

The solution to this problem is simple: Fire all of these court “recorders” and bring back the court reporter, the one that follows along and types the testimony on a steno machine.

It doesn’t take much to be a court recorder. True story: before my mother retired as a district court civil clerk, her court needed a backup reporter so the judges’ reporter could take the occasional day off.  After reviewing a preparation booklet and a taking a trip to Lansing, she received a recorder license. It was that simple.

As we discussed in this space a few weeks ago, relying on recording, electronic or tape, for important court proceedings is fraught with peril. Using stenographic reporters add a second layer of protection against losing testimony because you have the recording and you have the steno version. If you lose one, somehow, you still have the other.

Women lawyers to Capitol Hill: Hire us

When Bush Seyferth Paige attorney Erinn Dougherty DePorre heads to Washington D.C. in October, she will have just one simple request of the nation’s lawmakers: consider hiring women- and minority-owned law firms.

DePorre and other members of The National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) want to be sure that the federal government is going to adhere to mandates that specify that nearly all government contracts of more than $3,000 and less than $100,000 be reserved for certified small businesses, as well as to the recently passed House Financial Reform Bill, H.R. 4173, which includes a section regarding the inclusion of minorities and women.

Now is a crucial time to make sure that minority- and women-owned firms land government contracts, due to the large number of contracts being awarded DePorre said.

“If you look at it statistically, how much money the government spends on professional services, it’s a big part of the budget,” she said. “It’s $64.1 billion in the 2008 budget, and it’s even more this year. Our goal when we go to Washington is to introduce key members of the administration to NAMWOLF, and let them know that we’re out there, and we’re qualified.”

While they’re in D.C., NAMWOLF will award one lawmaker the Social Equality and Justice Award. Though DePorre couldn’t name the lawmaker, she did say that it’s someone who has made efforts to seek out opportunities to include minority- and women-owned businesses for government contracts.

Assistant AG Has Vendetta Against College Student

Sometimes, we get to report inspirational stories about ordinary people who rise up to fight against seemingly insurmountable opposition and succeed.

This is not one of those stories.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite: what happens when a person who rises to a prestigious position become obsessed with someone far below them that it exposes what a sad and pathetic person they are. Like when an assistant attorney general makes it his duty to take down a college student body president.

As The Detroit News reported today, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox rebuked assistant AG Andrew Shirvell for statements made on his blog against University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong. (Long story short: Shirvell doesn’t like Armstrong because he’s gay.)

“All state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours,” Cox said in a statement issued Wednesday. “But (Andrew) Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

The name of Shirvell’s blog? Chris Armstrong Watch. Yes, an assistant attorney general, one of the state’s top prosecutors, has started a blog solely for the purpose of attacking a college student. A grown man, going after a college student. No one says he doesn’t have the right to do it, but that makes it no less sad and pathetic.

Sample posting:

BOMBSHELL: Ann Arbor Police Raid Chris Armstrong’s Out-of-Control ‘Gay Rush’ Welcome Week Party

Summary: A house full of college students had a party that went late (after 1 am) and the police were called because it was late, loud and the students were hanging outside in the yards. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS! EVER!

I wonder how the police were tipped off to this mayhem. Could have been the same guy who was aghast that the party was even planned to begin with:

OUTRAGE ALERT: Armstrong Invites U of M Freshmen to Join the Homosexual Lifestyle

And probably the same guy who just so happened to be present to take a video of the police arrival? You know, the guy whose YouTube handle is “AntiArmstrong.” (Just one video posted. Ever.) I don’t know whose page that is but I’d bet money his initials are “A.S.”

Shirvell was disappointed to report in the post that “it’s not clear whether the police issued any minor in possession (MIP) citations…” Because the police often go to parties with rampant mayhem and don’t even issue MIP citations.

He actually resorts to Facebook-stalking Armstrong and his friends comments, posting screenshots of each. (What’s interesting is that, for most Facebook pages, you cannot see a person’s postings without friending them. Yet Shirvell has screenshots of Armstrong’s and several of his friends’ pages as evidence. Could it be that Shirvell has resorted to making a fake Facebook page in order to spy on college students? I sure hope not.)

And it’s rampant Facebook-stalking. One thing is certain: that he knows way too much about the goings on of Armstrong and his friends. Such as:

Fresh off a three-week European vacation, MSA Business Representative Serwer, pictured above with police, was asked to produce identification, which he eventually complied with only after he went back inside the house to find it.

OMG! Serwer DIDN’T HAVE HIS ID ON HIM! Someone ready the electric chair. He also knows that Armstrong attended last weekend’s Lady Gaga concert.

He outs as homosexuals other people with whom Armstrong is associated, armed with photographic evidence of a hug between the two which, “in a light more favorable to the nonmoving party” appears to be a joke of sorts.

He even trashes the parenting of  the mother of one of Armstrong’s friends for *gasp* taking her of-age son to Soaring Eagle Casino! He also discovered a fact that certainly must result in the mother’s parental rights being terminated: she makes a joke about her son having a fake ID!

The situation should put Cox into a tizzy. While he’s issued a “rebuke,” the AG’s office has said it will not comment further. This is pretty sad for an office that lauds its fight against cyberbullying. From the AG’s offices own document, titled “A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying”:

A cyberbully is someone who uses technology to harass, embarrass, intimidate, or stalk someone else.

The methods a cyberbully could use to harass the victim include the following:

• posting of secrets or embarrassing information, including pictures, for everyone to see

• posting of gossip or rumors for the explicit purpose of damaging the person’s reputation

• distribution of messages pretending to be the victim in an attempt to damage that person’s friendships

• alienation of the victim from online groups.

And I’d say this is a pretty textbook example.

King named Woman of the Year

Michigan Lawyers Weekly was proud to name Jean Ledwith King as our 2010 Woman of the Year at our inaugural Women in the Law Luncheon Sept. 16.

We couldn’t have been happier to host such a distinguished group of Women in the Law, and their guests, and to be able to honor King, a champion of equal rights.

For more about King, read Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s story from Aug. 30.