Detroit hip hop act sues feds over gang classification

For those who grew up in the 1990s, the act at the center of this need no introduction. For the rest of you…

Meet the Insane Clown Posse. This Detroit “horrorcore” hip hop duo is perhaps best known for its short stint in the WWE (yes, that WWE) and for showering its fans at shows with Faygo sodas. The pair, dubbed Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, have been around for 20 years. You can’t be a music act for that long without having a loyal fan following. It’s logo is a silhouette of a clown running with a cleaver.

And boy, does ICP have a massive and loyal fan following. Their fans, called Juggalos, mostly travel far and wide to see the two, particularly at the annual “Gathering of the Juggalos,” a weekend long festival of music and frivolity starring ICP and the rest of the acts on its Psychopathic Records label. They even have an infomercial (language NSFW in places):

As you can imagine, Juggalos are largely young, white males who dress up like their ICP. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Juggalos are also a gang, a “non-traditional” one, right up there with the Latin Kings.

Represented by Birmingham-based entertainment lawyer Howard Hertz, the band has sued the federal government on behalf of its fans. Shaggy 2 Dope explained the band’s position to The Village Voice, complete with a civics lesson. [via Gawker]

“You’re trying to grow love in your country and s***,” Shaggy 2 Dope told me last month. “Then the head of your country—the FBI—just turns around and f***ing kicks you in the nuts. How are you supposed to respond to that?”

Yes, America, exactly how are you supposed to respond to that?

The VV writer went to the recent Gathering and heard first hand the Juggalos tales of woe.

Spend an hour wandering around the Gathering and you’ll hear story after story after story about cops, schools, and bureaucracies discriminating against Juggalos for wearing Insane Clown Posse gear and their label’s Hatchetman logo. There’s the guy who lost his kids to a foster home because of his tattoo. There’s the Juggalo who was discharged from the United States military for having a Psychopathic Records CD. There’s the Wisconsin kid who was forbidden from wearing Insane Clown Posse shirts to school, but didn’t have money for new clothes, so he kept getting suspended.

“I know it’s just Juggalos and to a lot of people out there, that’s the lowest life form,” acknowledges Violent J. “But they’re being fucked with heavily. And this is some extraordinary shit that’s happening to us.”

ICP has a website, JuggalosFightBack.com, at which its asking Juggalos to tell their tales of harassment so that they “can fight for you in Court.”

But seriously, the report is pretty strange, particularly in its description of a band’s “criminal” makeup.

 Most Juggalo criminal groups are not motivated to migrate based upon traditional needs of a gang.

That’s because they are 14.

And, fellas, if you don’t want you or your fans to be associated with gangs, it would help if you didn’t flash gang signs in photos on your website.

Advertisements

Groups call citizenship declaration to vote unconstitutional

The ACLU and several other organizations that support voting rights filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s citizen “checkboxes” printed on ballot application forms.

The forms, which were used in February’s presidential primary and August state primary elections, ask the prospective voter to check a box declaring that they are a U.S. citizen. In July, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have required the declaration, but Johnson pushed ahead with the forms in the August primaries anyway.

According to an ACLU statement, the forms created confusion at polling centers, forcing Johnson to issue a directive to poll workers that the checkboxes were unenforceable. The Michigan Election Coalition asked Johnson to remove the box from the November forms but she refused, prompting the lawsuit.

“The Secretary of State may be the chief election officer in the state, but she is not above the law,” ACLU of Michigan executive director Kary Moss said in the statement. “By ignoring the administrative rule-making and legislative processes, she has thumbed her nose at the electorate and flouted the very laws she was elected to uphold. We can all agree that it should be easier to vote and harder to cheat, but cynical voter suppression tactics should not be tolerated.”

Guy tries to buy drinks with bartender’s stolen credit card

The guy in this story is saying something sort of similar, I’m sure. From the Associated Press:

Suspect David Weber, mugshot from Miami-Dade Corrections, via Miami Herald

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Police say a homeless man broke into a car in a Miami Beach garage, stole a credit card and then tried to use it to buy a beer from the bar in The Clevelander.

But the case was cracked when 53-year-old David Weber handed the card to the bartender who took his order Monday night. The Miami Herald reports the bartender noticed he had just been handed his own credit card.

The bartender called Miami Beach police. Weber was charged with credit card fraud and theft. He remained in the Miami-Dade County Jail early Wednesday.

Police say Weber told them he found the credit card on the ground.

As they say across the pond, unlucky. It’s been a couple months since we’ve had one, but … it’s the Lawsuit of the Month. (Yes, I know it’s technically not a lawsuit.)

It can pay to share with the IRS

In Baltimore, infamously, “snitches get stitches.”

But in business and law, snitches get riches.  A whistleblower banker at UBS who gave the IRS information about how the bank helped wealthy Americans hide assets was given a taste of the bounty. If you want to call $104 million a taste, that is. [CNNMoney]

Bradley Birkenfeld’s tips helped pave the way for a 2009 settlementbetween the U.S. government and UBS (UBS) under which the bank agreed to pay $780 million in penalties and turn over the account information of thousands of U.S. clients.

Over 35,000 Americans have since participated in amnesty programs to repatriate their offshore accounts, netting the government over $5 billion in back taxes, fines and penalties, Birkenfeld’s lawyers said in a statement Tuesday.

The IRS confirmed Birkenfeld’s reward but declined to comment in detail about the case.

The award is believed to be the first big award given by the IRS Whistleblower Office, which started in 2007.

Not that Birkenfeld hasn’t paid for it. He was sent to prison for 3 1/3 years for his participation in UBS’s program, a story portrayed in this CBS 60 Minutes piece.

The Neverending Story, The Prologue: Jury selection begins in the Kwame trial

Throughout the metro area, there’s a class of people living in despair, hoping, praying that they aren’t one of the select few sentenced to 18 weeks of hard time on the Kwame Kilpatrick jury.

Yes, finally, after years of drama, including a civil trial, hundreds of text messages, a never-to-be-satisfied restitution order, two prison stays, a book, and more charges than the San Fermin Festival, jury selection in Kilpatrick’s public corruption trial has begun in front of U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds. [In case you’ve forgotten what Kilpatrick is accused of this time around, the indictment can be found here.]

And with the beginning of the trial, we welcome back all of our old friends from past Kwame trials, such luminaries as Adoph Mongo, who offered this nugget of analysis to Robert Snell of The Detroit News:

“Race is 90 percent of this trial,” local political consultant Adolph Mongo said. “Race will overshadow anything and everything that comes out in the first week or two of this trial.”

Evidence, shmevidence. Who can argue with that?

Snell’s article focuses on the racial component of jury selection, which was an issue in the Bobby Ferguson case. Snell notes that the prosecutions of Sam Riddle and Bobby Ferguson,f or corruption and bid rigging, were derailed by a single juror, in both cases an African-American woman.

In the Freep, Tresa Baldas takes a different view, looking at the possibility of something that may or may not actually exist: the stealth juror, defined as a person who will lie to get on the jury because they have a bone to pick with either side, or just because they want to be famous. This makes complete sense. I mean, remember that juror from the O.J. Simpson trial, or the Casey Anthony trial? Yeah, me neither. Perhaps they should warn of the “stealth attorney” because they are the ones that tend to become famous from big trials. The lesson, Stealth Juror, is that book you’re thinking of writing? No one cares. Kwame himself wrote a book. It’s being used to balance uneven tables at bookstores across the state.

Baldas wrote that sniffing out hidden agendas can be tough:

The prospective jurors already have filled out questionnaires, and their answers have cleared the initial bias hurdle with both sides.

Experts note that uncovering any hidden biases is the tricky part, and jurors with hidden agendas could sneak their way onto the panel.

Hence the term “hidden agenda.”

The Freep also had a list of 10 felons/friends of Kilpatrick who are expected to testify against him.

I’ll tell you. I can’t wait … for it to be over.

MSC orders three initiatives on ballot, kllls one

The Michigan Supreme Court ended a season of electoral silliness by ordering the State Board of Canvassers to put three of the challenged initiatives on the ballot and killing a fourth one.

The court unanimously OKd the following initiatives, finding that they wouldn’t negate, nullify or abrogate other constitutional provisions:

  • Protect Our Jobs, which would amend the state constitution to guarantee collective bargaining rights for public employees;
  • The People Should Decide, which would require a popular vote for any new international bridge, and;
  • Michigan Alliance for Prosperity, which would require a 2/3 vote to raise taxes.

The one initiative for which the Court wouldn’t grant the order of mandamus was Citizens for More Michigan Jobs, which would allow for eight new casinos in Michigan. The court found that the proposal would have nullified the Liquor Control Commission’s control over liquor licenses granted to it in the Michigan Constitution. The court split 4-3 on this initiative in the usual manner.

COA finds teacher contribution requirement unconstitutional

Last year, as part of its many faceted effort to reform educational legacy costs, the Michigan Legislature passed a  law requiring teachers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their own health care benefits, regardless of what their labor agreements said. Naturally, teachers were apoplectic and sued, claiming the Legislature essentially rewrote their collectively bargained employment terms.

In AFT Michigan et al. v. State of Michigan, The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed, finding the statute, MCL 38.1343e unconstitutional. Specifically, the majority, in an opinion written by Judge Douglas Shapiro, found that the statute violated the Contracts clause of the U.S and state constitutions, constituted an unlawful governmental taking of private property and a substantial impairment of  employment contracts between the districts and unions.

The state argued that they weren’t taking from the teachers, but that they were borrowing the money to fund retiree benefits, which the teachers will receive back when they retire.

This, however, is an overly-general characterization that gives the false impression that the plaintiff employees are being required to contribute toward the funding of their own retirement benefits. The mandatory contributions imposed on current public school employees, do not go to fund their own retirement benefits, but instead to pay for retiree healthcare for already-retired public school employees. While present employees and retired employees share a common employer, that does not mean that their interests as individuals (or even as groups of employees) are identical.

Defendants have offered no legal basis for the conclusion that it comports with due process to require present school employees to transfer three percent of their incomes in order to fund retirement benefits of others. Rather, it is a mandatory direct transfer of funds from one discrete group, present school employees, for the benefit of another, retired school employees. The fact that these groups share employers does not render the scheme outside the constitutional protection of substantive due process.

*                                  *                                   *

We cannot envision a court constitutionally approving a statute that requires certain individuals to turn a portion of their wages over to the government in return for a “promise” that the government will return the monies with interest in twenty years where the government retains the unilateral right to “cancel” the “promise” at any time and will not even agree that if they do so, the monies taken will be returned. School employees cannot constitutionally be required to “loan” money to their employer school districts, with no enforceable right to receive anything in exchange and without even a legal guarantee assurance that the “loan” will be repaid.

The majority also shot down the state’s “fairness” argument, i.e. that it’s only fair that the teachers contribute to their own health care.

Judge Henry William Saad dissented, stating that the statute doesn’t violate the respective Contracts clauses.

Indeed, MCL 38.1343e cannot possibly implicate these constitutional provisions because it does not affect, much less impair, any contract. Simply put, to constitute an impairment of contract, there must first be a contract that is impaired. Thus, to state a claim, MCL 38.1343e must have altered either (1) a contract between the state itself and the public school employees, or, (2) the public school employees’ contracts with some third party. MCL 38.1343e does neither. And, because no contract has been impaired, this claim must fail.

Saad also argued that the statute doesn’t affect any “constitutionally protected property interest.”

In related news, on Wednesday, the Legislature passed more changes to the way public school employee pensions are funded, including “pre-funding” retiree health benefits, the type of contributions the Court found unconstitutional. According to a press release from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, Snyder is expected to sign the bill. A message left for Snyder’s spokesperson asking whether this decision changes his plan to sign the bill was not immediately returned.