Indigent defense bill clears House Judiciary Committee

A bill that addresses sweeping problems in the state’s indigent defense system has cleared the House Judiciary Committee.

HB 5804, would establish the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act and create a comprehensive approach to providing constitutionally effective assistance of counsel to indigent criminal defendants.

The legislation creates the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC). The 14-member board would consist of 13 individuals appointed by the governor from nominations submitted by legislative leaders, the State Bar of Michigan, the Criminal Defense Attorney Association of Michigan, bar associations representing minority interests, judges’ associations and the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who would also serve as the commission’s 14th member.

Among the bill’s key features:

  • Delivery of indigent criminal trial defense services (includes selection, funding, and payment of defense counsel) independent of the judiciary yet ensuring that judges are permitted and encouraged to contribute information and advice concerning the delivery of indigent criminal trial defense services.
  • Active participation of other members of the Bar with an indigent criminal defender office when indigent criminal trial defense services caseloads are sufficiently high.
  • Screening indigent adults for eligibility and assigning counsel as soon as feasible after formal charges are filed.

HB 5804 aims to:

  • provide defense counsel with sufficient time and space where confidentiality is safeguarded for meetings with clients; control workload to permit high-quality representation;
  • match the defense counsel’s ability, training, and experience with the nature and complexity of cases to which he or she is appointed;
  • have the same defense counsel continuously represent the client, with some exceptions, at every court appearance throughout the pendency of the case;
  • provide with and require defense counsel to attend relevant continuing legal education; and
  • [provide for] the systematical review of defense counsel for quality and efficiency of representation according to MIDC standards.

The measure now moves to the full House for further consideration.

Advertisements

‘The show is just beginning’: JTC case against Hudsonville judge moves forward

A special master has been appointed in the Judicial Tenure Commission’s case against 58th District Court Judge Kenneth Post in Hudsonville, who jailed an attorney for contempt after he repeatedly invoked his client’s Fifth Amendment privilege.

According to the JTC’s formal complaint against Post, attorney Scott Millard was representing Ethan Whale at an arraignment before Post. During the arraignment, Post asked Whale whether he would be “clean or dirty” if given a drug test. Millard told Post that Whale would stand mute to Post’s question.

Post insisted that Whale answer the question. After a recess, Post asked Whale directly if it was true that he didn’t want to reveal the last time he had used drugs. Millard interjected and said that was so.

Post told Millard that he was talking to Whale, not Millard. After another recess, during which Whale was tested and came up positive, Post continued to question Whale directly about the last time he used drugs. Millard twice attempted to assert Whale’s Fifth Amendment privilege on behalf of Whale. Post cut him off each time and warned him that a contempt citation was on the way.

Post told Millard that he needed Whale’s answer to determine “what the bond level is going to be.”

Post persisted in his questioning of Whale. Millard persisted in attempting to assert Whale’s rights.

Post fined Millard $100 for contempt of court. Millard again asserted Whale’s Fifth Amendment privilege. Post ordered Millard jailed for contempt.

While Millard was in custody and on his way to the county jail, according to the JTC’s complaint, Post summoned him back to court.

Just before Millard appeared in court, the court’s recording system captured these remarks between Post, who was laughing, and an unidentified speaker:

THE COURT: Good thinking. The show is just beginning. You won’t get better tickets anyplace. I’d sit up close if I were you.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay.

THE COURT: The front row is good.

Post told Millard, who appeared before him in handcuffs, that he would be released if he agreed to return to court with Whale and allow Whale to answer Post’s question. After some discussion Post again remanded Millard to jail.

After an hour in jail, Millard was transported to the Ottawa County Circuit Court, in handcuffs and leg shackles, both attached to a belly chain. Circuit Judge Leo Post (no relation to Kenneth Post) ordered Millard released.

The JTC’s complaint charged that Judge Kenneth Post failed to follow the law, displayed an improper demeanor toward counsel and trivialized a court proceeding.

Post responded to the complaint with a 30-page answer. In the “Conclusion” section of the answer, Post wrote:

Judge Post admits that he made a mistake of law in not realizing that Attorney Millard’s instruction to his client not to respond in light of his client’s 5th Amendment rights was colorable and therefore that the holding of Attorney Millard in contempt was an abuse of his discretion. However, an error of law does not subject a judge to a violation of the Judicial Canons or to a violation anticipated by MCR 9.104(1) 9.205 (sic) or the Michigan Constitution or (sic) 1963 as amended in Article 6 Section 30.

Judge Post admits that his remarks, as directed to Attorney Millard were sarcastic and possibly demeaning, and therefore constituted a “failure to be patient, dignified, and courteous to lawyers with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” contrary to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3A (3), and that his conduct may have “eroded public confidence in the judiciary and that he failed to avoid all impropriety,” contrary to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2A.

No word yet on a hearing date. Stay tuned.

Nominations open for Daniel J. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the Daniel J. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes outstanding work for Michigan’s children.

The award is a joint effort of the Michigan Supreme Court and the Department of Human Services, according to the MSC’s Office of Public Information.

The award was established in honor of the late Daniel J. Wright, an attorney and longtime leader in child support and child welfare reform.

He was credited with the “Michigan Miracle” in 2002 when, as special assistant to then-Chief Justice Maura D. Corrigan, he led the state’s efforts to upgrade Michigan’s child support enforcement system by federally mandated deadlines. By meeting the deadlines, Wright saved the state $142 million in federal fines and earned the state a $36 million refund for fines it had already paid. Later, as director of the Friend of the Court Bureau and Child Welfare Services divisions of the State Court Administrative Office, Wright helped create the state’s “Adoption Forums” to deal with adoption barriers that were stranding children in foster care. He worked on legislation to give foster children a greater voice in decisions about their lives; among other things, the law now requires courts to consult the child’s wishes when holding a hearing about placing the child in a permanent home.

According to Marcia McBrien, the MSC’s Public Information Officer, the selection committee includes Dan’s wife, Lynne Wright, who will also present the award on Adoption Day. Also on the panel: DHS Director and former Chief Justice Maura Corrigan; Steven D. Capps, director of SCAO’s Friend of the Court Bureau division; and Kelly Howard, director of SCAO’s Child Welfare Services division.

Information about nominee qualifications and how to submit a nominee for consideration is available here.

Rule governing bar admission by motion amended

Lawyers seeking admission to the State Bar of Michigan without taking the Michigan bar examination will no longer be required to state a good-faith intention to maintain an office in the state under a rule change approved by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court, with one partial dissent, has amended Rule 5 of the Rules for the Board of Law Examiners to eliminate the requirement effective Jan. 1, 2013.

However, there’s a possible snag. The rule amendment is at odds with MCL 600.946, which has not been amended to mirror the newly amended rule.

That’s why Janet Welch, the state bar’s executive director, had asked the MSC to adopted the Jan. 1, 2013, effective date, “to allow the Legislature to act on a corresponding statutory change consistent with the proposed amendment.” Welch submitted the request on behalf of the bar’s Executive Committee.

Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. complained that the MSC majority acted too quickly.

I concur with amending Rule 5 of the Rules for the Board of Law Examiners to eliminate the requirement that an application for admission without examination assert the intent to maintain an office in Michigan for the practice of law.

However, I dissent from giving this change effect prior to the amendment of MCL 600.946, which provides the identical requirement. Therefore, until MCL 600.946 is amended, the adopted rule change will not solve the problem it is designed to cure and amounts to no more than a gesture by this Court.

Young didn’t identify the “problem” to which he referred.

But Welch, in her comments to the MSC, noted that at least one other jurisdiction has found an in-state office requirement unconstitutional, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on the matter.

We believe that proposed change is supported by federal case law, In Fraizer v. Heebe,  a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case, [the Court] struck down a U.S, District Court local rule requiring either residency in the state where the court sat or the maintenance of an office in the state without reaching any of the constitutional questions, by concluding that the residency requirement was “unnecessary and arbitrarily discriminates against out-of-state lawyers” and that the in-state office requirement is “unnecessary and irrational.”

In September 2011, New York’s in-state office requirement was ruled unconstitutional in Schoenefeld v. New York. The opinion held that the rule was a violation of the privileges and immunities clause.

So, the MSC has amended a rule governing admission to the bar, presumably to eliminate a provision of questionable legality. Young has gone out of his way to opine that the MSC’s action doesn’t mean a thing until the Legislature brings the statute into line.

In the meantime, the Legislature is preparing for its summer break, so if anything is going to happen, it won’t be until later in the year.

Lest you think this is an academic point, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners gets more than 100 applications a year for admission under Rule 5.

If the Legislature doesn’t act until after Jan. 1, or decides to simply ignore the matter, the bar examiners will have an interesting choice to make when processing Rule 5 applications in 2013 and beyond.

Western District suspends bankruptcy lawyer

Southfield bankruptcy attorney Jeffrey David Thav has been suspended from practice for one year in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

A three-judge panel issued the suspension after concluding that Thav

failed to meet the basic practice standards of this District in failing to show up for hearings on repeated occasions and despite multiple warnings from more than one Bankruptcy Judge in this District.

Thav had been on an informal probation, designed by Bankruptcy Judge Scott Dales to address Thav’s failure to appear for scheduled hearings. The informal probation was lifted, after which Thav missed more scheduled hearings, prompting disciplinary proceedings under the Western District’s Local Rule 83.1(k).

Other matters involving Thav “illustrates an underlying practice management problem that is at the root of why the panel believes a one-year suspension is necessary.”

The panel noted Thav’s late payment of court fees.

On no less that forty-two occasions over less than ten months[,] payments from Attorney Thav’s office were significantly late, even when the fees at issue had been collected in advance from the client

Thav’s required fee disclosures “in several matters appeared inaccurate, or at least incomplete, in some material aspects,” according to the panel’s order.

The panel also noted that Thav

who lives and works outside the [Western] District[,] [had] some kind of arrangement with an attorney who lived and worked in the Western District to cover [Thav’s] hearings in the [Western] District.

It did not appear, however, that the arrangement was disclosed to or approved by the affected clients.

Thav was engaged in a multi-district bankruptcy practice but was unable to meet the Western District’s “basic practice standards,” said the panel.

A one-year suspension will give Attorney Thav an opportunity to consolidate his practice, concentrate his resources and build his legal and management skills to the point where he may well be able to handle a multi-district practice that includes … [the Western] District … .

The case is In the Matter of Attorney Jeffrey David Thav. Administrative Order 12-019.

ICB Foundation names Fellows

Congratulations to the five most recently named Fellows of the Ingham County Bar Foundation:

  • Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Laura Baird
  • Peter Houk, a former Ingham County Circuit Court judge and current member of Fraiser, Trebilcock, Davis & Dunlap
  • Thad Morgan and Mike Perry, also of Fraiser, Trebilcock
  • Iris Linder of Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith

Fellowship in the ICBF is limited to no more than 5% of actively practicing lawyers in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties who have demonstrated leadership, character and professionalism.

Attorneys are nominated for fellowship by current Fellows and elected to Fellowship by the ICBF’s Board of Directors.

State Bar wants client solicitation rule revamped

The Michigan Supreme Court is seeking comments on a proposed amendment of Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3, ADM File No. 2010-22.

The proposal, sponsored by the State Bar of Michigan, would place limitations regarding attorney solicitation of potential family law clients.

The proposal would added the following language to MRPC 7.3a

[I]n any matter that involves a family law case in a Michigan trial court, a lawyer shall not initiate contact or solicit a party to establish a client-lawyer relationship until the initiating documents have been served upon that party or 14 days have passed since the date the document was filed, whichever action occurs first.

This limitation does not apply if the party and lawyer have a pre-existing family or client-lawyer relationship.

For purposes of this rules, “family law case” includes the following case-type code designations from MCR 8.117: DC, DM, DO, DP, DS, DZ, NA, PJ, PH, PP, or VP.

According to the staff comment accompanying the proposal, the state bar “argues that allowing attorneys to notify defendants before service leads to greater risk of domestic violence against the filing party or other illegal actions (such as absconding with children or removing assets from a joint bank or other financial account) that may occur before service can be completed.”

Accompanying the proposal is a request from Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane N. Hathaway that persons submitting comments “address whether the proposed amendment to the rule is consistent with Shapero v Kentucky Bar Ass’n, 486 US 466; 108 S ct 1916; 100 LEd 2d 475 (1988), or raises any other constitutional concerns.”

The comment period for the proposal closes March 1, 2012. Send comments in writing or by email to: Supreme Court Clerk, P.O. Box 30052, Lansing, MI 48909, or MSC_clerk@courts.mi.gov. Reference ADM File No. 2010-22.