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.

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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.

Isn’t it romantic?

Today the House Judiciary Committee will take up a package of bills that would allow district court magistrates and judges, and probate judges to solemnize marriages anywhere in the state.

Senate bills 698-700 have passed in the Senate. They would allow judges to perform marriages anywhere in the state without having to get a temporary assignment from the State Court Administrative Office; it would also require a $10 fee for performing the ceremony to be paid to the court.

Just in time for wedding season, the committee will discuss the bills this morning at 10:30.

Judge goes undercover in K2 hunt

Judge Kirsten Nielsen Hartig has had quite enough of the K2-related crimes in her county. Hartig, a judge at 52-4 Oakland County District Court, decided to go undercover to search for retailers who are selling K2, or Spice, or any of the other many substances that are passing themselves off as a supposed man-made substitute for marijuana.

Oakland County has been hit pretty hard lately by the stuff. A recent rash of horrifying deaths are tied to K2 in some way or another. In one case, a teenager stands accused of killing his father and critically injuring his mother and brother; in another, a grandmother is charged with murdering her teenage grandson. She is reported to have said she was afraid of him, and he’d been using K2.

Michigan legislators are trying to pass legislation that would allow criminal prosecution for selling the substance, which Hartig said is actually nothing at all like marijuana, even if it’s marketed as a synthetic substitute for weed. The proposed legislation would allow K2 sellers to be prosecuted as if they were selling, or rather, trafficking, marijuana.

Stand your ground or stand down?

A group of Democrat representatives in Lansing earlier this week introduced a repeal of Michigan’s version of the now-famous “stand your ground” law at the center of Florida’s Trayvon Martin case.

The bill, House Bill 5644, would repeal the state’s “Self Defense Act” of 2006, but would not impact the state’s “Castle Doctrine,” which allows people to protect themselves and their belongings in their own homes.

Dems gather today to introduce patient safety bills

House and Senate Democrats led by Sen. Bert Johnson (D- Detroit) and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) will host a press conference at noon today to discuss the details of a new package of Patient Safety bills.

The bills will be introduced hours before the Senate Insurance Committee convenes to discuss a package of Republican-sponsored bills that would reform medical malpractice by giving physicians greater immunity if they are acting in the best interest of the patient and using professional judgment.

This Democrats’ legislation seeks to increase penalties for doctors who commit certain offenses such as practicing while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, acting with the intent to harm a patient, or intentionally prescribing unnecessary medication. The bills would also create new reporting requirements and administrative disciplinary action within the Department of Community Health to better monitor doctors who are proven to be bad actors. The lawmakers will be joined by individuals who are victims of medical malpractice.

The conference will be noon today in Room 403 of the Capitol Building in Lansing.