SCAO says: Beware of scammers

The Michigan State Court Administrative Office is warning Michigan residents and lawyers to be on alert against a new scam that has been reported in other states. In this scheme, a text message could appear on your phone, claiming to be from a local court, saying that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. But the “court” offers you a way out, according to SCAO: you can quash the warrant by calling the number provided and paying $500 by credit card.

State Court Administrator Chad Schmucker said that the way the scam works is that the victim receives a text message, stating that he or she is on a “failure to appear” list, and has an outstanding warrant.

“The text then instructs the victim to call a phone number to pay up to avoid being arrested. To make the demand seem plausible, the scammer often uses the name of an actual local court or court official,” Schmucker said. But, he said, Michigan courts don’t use text messaging to advise people that they’re subject to arrest.

Schmucker said to not even call the number in the text message. But report the text to the police, and to the court that the message sender claims to represent.

The Michigan Supreme Court Office of Public Information reminds people:

  1. Be suspicious if a person calls, e-mails, or texts you claiming to be a court official.
  2. Be skeptical if you are told, “In order to avoid arrest or prosecution, you must provide a Social Security number for verifying your identity.
  3. Be suspicious if the caller, e-mail or text message sender pressures you for immediate payment or other action, or refuses to send you written information to review.
  4. Never give out bank account, credit card or Social Security information over the phone who calls you or sends you a message.
  5. Report suspicious calls, e-mails and text messages to the police.

Firm bucks rumor of shutdown

It’s not the first time that Joseph Bourgon, CEO of Southfield-based Sommers Schwartz PC, has heard rumors of his firm shutting down. And again, he says, the rumors are untrue.

“The last time was in 2007 or 2008 when there was an exodus of attorneys from the firm, some by our choice, and some who just decided to go on and do other things,” Bourgon said.

This time, the rumors are centering around a much smaller exodus — three attorneys who are leaving the firm and a couple who are deciding to be of-counsel — and a move sometime later this year. About the latter, Bourgon said that the firm has for a long time occupied the ninth and 10th floors of the 2000 tower of Town Center. And that’s just much more space than the firm needs.

“We’re coming to the end of a 10-year lease, and saw this as an opportunity to look at what kind of firm we are, what kind of firm we want to be, and get right-sized,” Bourgon said.

Senior Shareholder Richard Groffsky said that the new space will still be in Southfield (possibly in Town Center, though the firm has not yet made a final decision). At the beginning of the firm’s 10-year lease, the firm employed 80 attorneys, Groffsky said. And every lawyer had his or her own secretary.

“We haven’t operated that way for a long time,” Groffsky said. Now, the firm has 40 lawyers. He said that the lease ends Dec. 31. Bourgon said the firm will likely have agreements on new space by July 15.

“But any rumor that the firm is dissolving is 100 percent untrue,” Groffsky said.

MAJ spokesman moves on

Longtime spokesman for Michigan Association for Justice Jesse Green has left the association to focus on another (yet undisclosed) professional opportunity.

Green announced his departure earlier this week saying that he was leaving the position he’d held for 11 years, and was ending on a high note, having “battle[d] to fend off the medical error immunity bills [in the legislature] for the summer.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, he said this morning, to leave the post. But the timing, though never ideal, was the best he could ask for because the legislature has wound down for the summer, the association’s new president has been installed, and it seemed like a good time for the association to make the transition.

Cooley, Davenport to offer JD/MBA

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Davenport University announced yesterday that the two schools have entered an agreement to partner up in providing students a dual JD/MBA degree.

The program will start in the fall, and will be offered at Davenport’s and Cooley’s Lansing campuses.

Students interested in the JD/MBA program must meet the established admission criteria at each school. Cooley students may begin taking classes in Davenport’s MBA program after successfully completing at least one year of Cooley courses. Davenport students may begin in Cooley’s JD program after successfully completing the initial one year of the MBA course work at Davenport University.

Ann Arbor nursing home to pay $35k in religious discrimination suit

Whitehall Healthcare Center of Ann Arbor, a skilled nursing and long-term care facility in Ann Arbor, will pay $35,000 to settle a religious discrimination suit.

In its lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) in late 2011, the EEOC alleged that Whitehall discriminated against a certified nursing assistant because of her request for a religious accommodation. The employee is a Jehovah’s Witness.

She asked that her employer not schedule her to work on Wednesdays or Sundays so she could attend spiritual meetings and participate in field service as a part of her sincerely held religious belief. The worker was fired when she informed her boss that she was unable to work on Sundays, according to the EEOC.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Whitehall Healthcare of Ann Arbor, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:11-cv-15407) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The approval of a consent decree by Judge Avern Cohn brings a formal end to the litigation between the EEOC and Whitehall. In addition to paying $35,000 to the discrimination victim, the resolution requires the company to provide training to all employees regarding requests for religious accommodations, create a new religious accommodation policy and file reports with the EEOC regarding compliance with the decree’s requirements.

EEOC Trial Attorney Lauren Gibbs, Supervisory Trial Attorney Kenneth Bird, and Regional Attorney Laurie Young led the government’s litigation.

Shootout between NLRB social media sheriff and GM?

The social media sheriff at the National Labor Relations, acting general counsel Lafe Solomon, has saddled into town and is making his rounds, said Troy employment attorney C. John Holmquist.

Holmquist was referring to Solomon’s third report on social media in the work place, released last week. The report details seven corporate social media policies. Six of them, according to the NLRB, are unlawful. One (Wal-Mart’s policy) was deemed lawful.

“That’s really unusual,” Holmquist said. “Because employers asked for guidance, he blesses one example as a template of what an employer can use. I can’t recall general counsel ever taking that approach before.”

One of the unlawful policies was General Motors’ policy. The NLRB called GM’s somewhat stringent policy overbroad and restrictive of employee communications, to the point where it may infringe on activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act. GM has since said that it is not changing its policy, which it argues complies with all applicable laws.

Holmquist has lately been scratching his head over the high level of activity of the NLRB.

“It seems that the NLRB has sort of become a Hail Mary. If a worker can’t do anything else, go to the NLRB and say that whatever it is the worker was doing was a protected activity,” Holmquist said. He said he thinks the next big issue that the NLRB will opine on (and, he said, will probably favor the worker over the employer) will be employer technology and computer use.

As for the social media policies, when considering who is correct — Solomon or GM? Holmquist said that’s going to have to be settled in court.

“That’s going to be tied up in litigation for at least a couple of years,” he said. “And who wants to do that?”

The easier route for many employers will be to simply use the policy that gets the NLRB’s blessing as a template .

COA to hear John Doe appeal in Cooley Law School suit

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed to hear an appeal from John Doe 1, also known as Rockstar05, who is being sued by The Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Doe is fighting to keep his identity a secret after he posted under his Rockstar pen name a blog post that was highly critical of Cooley’s business practices. He wrote the post early in 2011 after Cooley devised and published a national ranking system of all the law schools in the country, and ranked itself second behind only Harvard Law School.

Doe called the school a “diploma mill,” and an expensive one at that. Cooley sued.

But Doe said that he has the right to protect his free and anonymous speech. The law school knows who Doe is, and has known since August 2011. But if the courts agree that he can remain anonymous, Cooley can’t name him in the lawsuit.

Doe’s attorney, Berkley-based attorney John Hermann, said he feels encouraged that the Court of Appeals has granted leave. The case is important, Hermann said, because it “represents some free speech issues that we deal with in this electronic communication era.”

The Court granted media companies Gannett Co. Inc., Scripps Media Inc., The Detroit News, The Macomb Daily and The Rail — and the Michigan Press Association to file amicus briefs.

Aside from the First Amendment implications, there’s a great wonky angle to this case. Late in 2011, Cooley General Counsel James Thelen told Michigan Lawyers Weekly that if the Court allows Doe to remain anonymous, it would be sliding down a slippery slope of rewriting Michigan Court Rules and pleading standards by forcing a defamed plaintiff to prove its case before being entitled to seek discovery, as provided in Michigan law. (Subscribers can read the story here.) It would also need to look up in the dictionary the definition of “anonymous,” since Thelen, the law school and outside counsel at Miller Canfield already know who Doe is (he’s a former student, and Doe’s blog’s web host inadvertently gave Miller Canfield his identifying information).

Doe is asking the Court to apply the Dendrite standard, from Dendrite International v. Does, which requires a plaintiff to give notice to the potential defendant and give an opportunity for Doe to defend his anonymity; specify the statements that allegedly violate the plaintiff’s rights; plead a claim that could survive a motion to dismiss; and produce evidence supporting each element of the claim.

Civil rights clinic sues to get access to prisoner clients

Daniel Manville said he has had just about enough. As the director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University, he has to travel from the Metro area to Western Michigan to the far west side of the Upper Peninsula in order to meet with clients.

That’s hard enough.

But when he started hearing that prisons were going to shorten the hours during which attorneys could meet with clients, and that some were not going to provide private meeting space for confidential conversations, Manville said that burden was too much.

He said he first had a problem when he was visiting a prison in Adrian. He was told then that he couldn’t use a private conference room to meet with his client.

“The woman working the desk said, ‘We don’t have a key for that room,’ but that’s just ludicrous,” Manville said. The captain produced a key, but when he couldn’t track down an officer to provide personal protection for Manville, the meeting had to take place with the door open.

Manville didn’t make much of it, and wrote off the experience as a fluke. But then he visited another prison, where he was told that there would no longer be visiting hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, even for attorneys.

That’s unworkable, he said.

So he’s suing the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, and wardens at three prisons. He filed Monday in the Eastern District.

“All I am asking for is for them to be reasonable, which is in some cases asking a lot of the Department of Corrections,” Manville said. “In more than 20 years I have never had a problem with being able to meet with a client. It’s getting to be unreasonable.”

Manville said that he was told that budget cutbacks have caused the prisons to shorten visiting hours.

Among the other named plaintiffs are attorneys Gerald Lorence, Craig Davis, Dory Baron, Lee Somerville and Nick Suciu. The case is Civil Rights Clinic, et al. v. Washington, et al.

Rehab center pays to settle discrimination suit

Southfield rehabilitation and nursing company Health Partners, Inc. has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a case in which the company was accused of discrimination against an employee who had tested positive for tuberculosis.

In EEOC v. Health Partners, Inc. (Case No. 2:11-CV-12024), filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the EEOC charged that Health Partners violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to allow an employee to start working after she tested positive for tuberculosis on a preliminary skin test. The EEOC contended that such conduct violates the ADA because Health Partners regarded her as disabled even though she was not contagious and did not pose a direct threat of health risk.

Rather than engage in protracted litigation, Health Partners agreed to a two-year consent decree which requires it to pay $25,000 to the employee and train those employees responsible for hiring about ADA rules, according to the EEOC.