Republicans introduce bills to protect docs in med mal cases

There’s been a storm brewing in Lansing for months. On one front are senators who would like to create what critics say is immunity for doctors in medical malpractice cases. On the other front are legislators who want doctors who have committed medical malpractice to face tougher sanctions.

Yesterday afternoon, the first winds started to blow into town as four bills were introduced. The bills, Senate Bill 1115,   Senate Bill 1116, Senate Bill 1117, and Senate Bill 1118, would do a number of things, starting with limiting non-economic damages (and including the loss of household and other services in those non-economic damages).

“Talk about a Republican war on women. Who usually provides those household services?” said plaintiff’s attorney Marc Lipton.

The bills also would create a hard cap on damages, and protect physicians from litigation if the alleged malpractice was “the exercise of professional judgment. … [A] person exercises professional judgment if the person acts with a reasonable and good-faith belief that the person’s conduct is both well founded in medicine and in the best interests of the patient.”

Group files with Court of Appeals over emergency manager ballot issue

The group Stand Up for Democracy filed a writ of mandamus yesterday at the Michigan Court of Appeals, in hopes that the Court will force the Michigan Secretary of State place the repeal of Michigan’s emergency financial manager law on the November ballot.

The coalition opposing the law says that it threatens democracy and local rights. However, proponents of the law say that it’s necessary to save struggling cities from bankruptcy.

The Detroit Free Press has the full story here.

Porn allegations rock appellate defender commission

The Detroit Free Press has a stunning story this morning about the former chief of the State Appellate Defender Office, and a delay in investigating the events that may have led to his abrupt decision to retire from SADO, where he had worked for some four decades.

The Freep alleges that appellate defender commission delayed turning over to authorities evidence of questionable, and possibly illegal, activities involving its former director James Neuhard, and evidence of pornography allegedly found on the computer that he used until his abrupt retirement in January 2011.

According to Michigan Supreme Court spokeswoman Marcia McBrien, the first anyone at the Supreme Court heard of the allegations was in August of 2011.

Cooley Law School dean and appellate commission board member “John Nussbaumer contacted [Michigan Supreme Court General Counsel] Matthew Schneider.”

Nussbaumer told Schneider that staffers had found evidence of pornographic web surfing on Neuhard’s computer late in 2010 or early in 2011. Neuhard resigned on Jan. 3, 2011.

McBrien said that the computer was turned over to federal law enforcement authorities at that time.

“They had uncovered sites that were suspected child pornography,” she said.

Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. was informed of the allegations right away, and “expressed outrage that there was a delay for eight months and nothing concrete had happened,” McBrien said.

The Freep story stated that part of the delay was because the commissioner’s former chairman Donald Martin, who said in January 2011 that he would handle the matter, was diagnosed with leukemia early in 2011. By the time Nussbaumer became chairman and learned that Martin had not contacted law enforcement authorities, it was June.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office issued a statement: “Prosecutor Worthy was made aware of the allegations approximately a month and a half ago.” Her office can’t comment because there is an ongoing investigation. No determination has been made on whether criminal charges will be filed.

Neuhard was named Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2009 Lawyer of the Year.

Kelly task force calls for campaign finance, judge election reforms

A non-partisan task force assembled nearly a year and a half ago by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly has come up with a list of recommendations to make the judicial selection process less expensive and more transparent.

The task force’s recommendations were released yesterday.

Among the reforms on the list of recommendations is a constitutional amendment to require gubernatorial appointment of state Supreme Court justices using either the federal executive appointment model, or Arizona’s selection commission model.

Kelly said that was one of the stickier issues, and one that did not garner consensus of the entire task force.

“The majority of the task force did support it,” she said. “But the majority and the minority felt it was important to not make it one of the consensus recommendations.”

So what does that mean? It means there are other issues the task force would like to focus on.

Also on the list of recommendations (which did have consensus agreement) :

  • Public disclosure of all judicial campaign spending
  • The implementation of an open primary system, rather than a partisan nomination system
  • Requiring the Secretary of State to produce a voter education guide with information about judicial candidates
  • A Supreme Court campaign oversight committee, which would check the factual claims in political advertisements and denounce those that are false and misleading.
  • The implementation of a screening commission to help the governor fill judicial vacancies.
  • The elimination of the age-70 ceiling on judicial candidates

A minority of task force members also felt that public financing of judicial races should be recommended, but in the end, that idea failed to get support.

The reason, ironically, is that since Citizens United, there has been so much money from third parties flowing into political advertising. Candidate committees already only spend a small fraction of the total amount spent on political advertising.

Kelly said that many on the task force felt that the committees need to be able to at least try to get candidate-approved (and hopefully truthful and respectable) advertisements out to the public to combat all the secret third-party, mostly negative and often untrue, messages.

Some of the items on the list of recommendations could be implemented quickly and easily, without a constitutional amendment or even legislative action.

The Secretary of State voter education guides is one of those.

“I feel strongly about the need to get the public informed,” Kelly said. “A full third of voters skip the judges altogether. We can’t presume they don’t care. If they don’t know the candidates, can you blame them for not voting for them? …

“The public is entitled to know things like if a judge is on the bench on time, or if he or she is harsh on the people in their courtrooms.”

Another recommendation that would be easily implemented is the commission to screen candidates for appointment to fill vacant supreme court vacancies.

“That would protect the governor from pressure from cronies,” she said. “And it would be possible for the public to know what’s going on.

As to whether or not any of the recommendations will get any traction, Kelly said, “We’re not Pollyannas here. If the system was going to correct itself it would have.”

But she’s hopeful because the one thing that the task force agreed on unanimously is that the judicial selection system is flawed.

“We may have disagreed on what those flaws are, but we all agreed the system has its flaws,” Kelly said

Bad policy or bad math?

The Detroit Free Press has a good opinion piece on the constitutional spat between Lansing Democrats and Republicans who have taken their battle to the Court of Appeals over immediate effect of some controversial legislation.

The Freep takes Republicans to task for getting a pretty basic elementary school algebra problem wrong: The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote for a bill to get immediate effect. And it’s pretty clear and plain language that spells out the requirement.

But the party has a 63-47 majority, which has been deemed good enough on several occasions.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. You can read the story here.

Judge James found guilty

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that 22nd District Court Chief Judge Sylvia James has been found guilty of misusing public funds.

Retired Washtenaw County Judge Ann Mattson was appointed special master over the case. She ruled that James had “demonstrated ‘a lack of respect for the law’ by lying to the commission and misappropriating funds,” according to the Freep.

Could teens hold the answers to closing the wage gap?

You’d think we’d have figured this out by now, but a wage gap between men and women still exists, and among some groups of workers it’s pretty deep. And since we haven’t yet solved the problem, my hopes are not particularly high that my contemporaries — the middle-aged crowd — hold the answers to closing the gap.

But is it possible that my teenage son’s contemporaries can figure it out? My instinct was to quickly conclude, “Oh no. On any given day, about a third of the kids in my son’s high school haven’t even figured out that they’re walking around with their flies open.” But, and it hurts me to admit this, I might be wrong. At least the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) thinks I might be wrong.

Here’s the state of the current problem: Last week, U.S. News cited a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that “among the 20 most popular occupations for women workers, they only out-earn men in one field: bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks.”

Further, though 96 percent of secretaries and administrative assistants are women, those women only earn about 86 percent of what men earn, according to the story.

Often, the gap is created by societal norms, such as the division of duties when it comes to child rearing or caring for sick family members, or maintaining a household, which often are still considered primarily women’s work.

The disparity is even greater among low-wage workers and some minority groups. The story says that women overall earn $10,800 less per year than men. But African American women earn $19,600 less, and Latinas earn $23,900 less.

But here’s the possible solution: teenagers. To try to figure out why the gap is still larger than we’d like, and how to close it, the EEOC is asking young people to weigh in.

Tomorrow, the EEOC is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Take your Child to Work Day by inviting teenagers to its Denver Field Office to participate in a dialogue for solutions on how to bridge the gender wage gap in America.

According to the EEOC, suggestions from this forum will be sent to the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force in Washington, D.C.

The reason the teenagers may hold the keys to solving the problem is that they are an unbiased group, said Denver EEOC Field Director Nancy Sienko.

She might be right about that. Not only are teenagers mostly untarnished by many of life’s experiences (think: child-rearing, dealing with serious illness, and meeting the responsibility of making ends meet in a recession), but among young people, women have now for the first time surpassed men in how much value they place on earning a lot of money.

An April 23 story on The Job Mouse website reported that young women value high-paying careers more than their male counterparts.

The story says that when asked if career is high on their list of life priorities, 66 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 said yes. That number has been growing, according to the story.

But the key to true equality has often been thought to lie with the men. When young men’s priorities — about work and career, child rearing and housekeeping — match those of women, then household responsibilities and wage earning will start to look more balanced between the sexes.

The Job Mouse reported that 59 percent of young men, when asked about life priorities, answered that career is high on the list.

So my mother’s generation opened the doors, mine walked through them and now view work outside the home as a necessity, and perhaps my teenage son’s generation will be the one that finally figures it all out. Let’s hope so.

Gov. appoints White to 38th Circuit Court bench

Gov. Rick Snyder appointed appointment Monroe family lawyer Daniel White to the 38th Circuit Court in Monroe County. The appointment fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Joseph A. Costello Jr.

White began his legal career as an attorney with the law firm of Lennard & Graham. For nearly 30 years, he has been in private practice. He is a former member of the Monroe City Council and remains active in his community and professional organizations, including the Monroe County Bar Association and the Monroe County Airport Board. He is a graduate of Monroe County Community College, University of Michigan and earned his law degree from the University of Toledo.

White’s appointment runs through Jan. 1, 2013. He will have to seek election in November 2012 for the remainder of the term ending Jan. 1, 2015.

MSC denies leave in Detroit financial review case

The Michigan Supreme Court has denied leave to appeal in Robert Davis’ case against the City of Detroit financial review team.

Davis, a union activist, has been fighting to prevent the city and the State of Michigan from entering into a financial agreement, arguing that state’s financial review teem violated Open Meetings Act.

Will sexual orientation become protected?

Ann Arbor Democratic Sen. Rebekah Warren introduced a bill on Tuesday that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

SB 1063 identifies gender identity or expression as “having or being perceived as having a gender-related self-identity or expression whether or not associated with an individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

The bill, if adopted, would also protect sexual orientation, which is “having an orientation for heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or having a history of such an orientation or being identified with such an orientation.”