COA denies Wayne prosecutor’s bid to disqualify 36th District Court bench

The Michigan Court of Appeals has turned down Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s application to disqualify the entire 36th District Court bench from conducting the preliminary examination of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and other charges.

The three-page order notes that in two prior cases where an entire judicial bench was disqualified, there was no analysis of the facts or any articulated analysis and, therefore, were of no help in this case.

Analyzing this case under MCR 2.003(B), the COA observed that even if some of the judges may be called as witnesses during the preliminary exam, “MCR 2.003(b)(6) requires the recusal of a judge only when ‘the judge or the judge’s spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person … is to the judge’s knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.’ None of the judges who are proposed witnesses fall within this rule.”

Click here for the full text of the order.

On-line lawyer rating service hits Michigan

Avvo.com, an on-line lawyer rating service that premiered to mixed reviews (here, here and here) last June, and weathered a class-action lawsuit filed by attorneys who took issue with their ratings, now includes ratings for Michigan (and Wisconsin) lawyers.

From Avvo’s press release last week:

“The new ratings and profiles are immediately available for consumers to view and for lawyers to claim and update for free. Avvo is now available in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and covers approximately 70 percent of licensed attorneys across the country.
“Avvo offers consumers more information and better guidance regarding lawyers and legal issues than has previously been available in one place. Avvo rates and profiles every lawyer, with Avvo Profiles including attorneys’ practice areas, work experience, industry recognition, and disciplinary sanctions. Avvo also aggregates and displays client reviews submitted by consumers and peer reviews submitted by attorneys.”

How does Avvo calculate its ratings for lawyers? From Avvo’s website:

“The Avvo Rating is our effort to evaluate a lawyer’s background, based on the information we know about the lawyer. The rating is calculated using a mathematical model that considers the information shown in a lawyer’s profile, including a lawyer’s years in practice, disciplinary history, professional achievements and industry recognition – all factors that, in our opinion, are relevant to assessing a lawyer’s qualifications.
“For some lawyers, the only information we have been able to collect is the publicly available information from state bar associations or other organizations that license lawyers. If that is all we have, then we display an Avvo Rating for the lawyer of either ‘Attention’ or ‘No Concern.’ We display the ‘Attention’ rating if there is information in the licensing records that, in our opinion, you should pay attention to, such as a disciplinary action against a lawyer without offsetting positive information. Otherwise, we display the ‘No Concern’ rating.”

So, how useful is Avvo? I tried popping in the names of a few Michigan attorneys, selected by the highly scientific method of flipping the pages of the Michigan Bar Directory with my eyes closed, stopping and pointing my finger.

I used the “Lawyer Name” search tab on Avvo’s home page. There are fields for first and last name, plus a city, state or zip code field. In each case, I used first name and middle initial, if any, last name and “Michigan.”

The results were erratic.

For instance, searching for Douglas J. Donaldson, of the Donaldson & Bieganowski firm, produced this from Avvo: “We did not find any lawyers named Douglas J. Donaldson. To help you, we have expanded your search to include lawyers with the last name Donaldson.” But, curiously, under this “no find” advisory, his profile was listed nonetheless, with a “No concern” rating. Clicking his profile revealed this information: “23 years since Douglas J. Donaldson was first licensed to practice law in MI,” no disciplinary actions, practice areas unknown.

Searching for Stacie R. Behler, listed in the bar directory as “Vice President Public Affairs Meijer Stores,” produced the same “no find” advisory. But, like Donaldson, Behler’s profile was listed below the advisory. Here’s her information: “13 years since Stacie R. Behler was first licensed to practice law in MI,” no disciplinary actions, practice areas unknown.

A search for Robert C. Ketola, Robert P. Ketola & Associates, did not produce a “no find” advisory (as should have Donaldson’s and Behler’s). Clicking Ketola’s profile lets you know: “11 years since Robert C. Ketola was first licensed to practice law in MI,” no disciplinary actions, practice areas unknown.

Hmmm.

None of the lawyers I searched had a numeric Avvo rating. In fact, it was not that easy to find a lawyer that had a numeric Avvo rating. I searched for every lawyer with the last name “Smith” in Michigan. Avvo returned 276 listings, and by my count, roughly ten percent had a numeric rating.

Hmmm. Hmmm.

Then, just for grins, I tried each of the Michigan Supreme Court justices. A search for Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor produced the now-familiar “We did not find any lawyers named …” But there was a profile listing for him. There were “no find” advisories but profile listings for Justices Elizabeth Weaver, Robert P. Young and Stephen J. Markman.
A listing appeared for Justice Michael F. Cavanagh. A search for Justice Marilyn Kelly took me straight to two lawyers named Mary Kelly but did not advise me there was no listing for Marilyn Kelly.

Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.

Justice Maura D. Corrigan’s search produced the most curious result. Avvo advised that “Hon. Maura D. Corrigan has not claimed this profile so information may not be current. Here are similar lawyers that may interest you. These lawyers have claimed profiles and provided up-to-date information.” The “similar lawyers” (only one was listed) was Shalini Nangia, a Livonia attorney with 7.4/10 rating. I searched both Corrigan’s and Nangia’s Avvo profiles in vain for something that would justify Avvo’s “similar lawyers” linkage.

Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.

Looks like the Avvo folks have a little work to do.

Today is ‘Cliche Awards Day’

Let the ceremony begin!

The “Locking The Barn Door After The Horse Is Gone” trophy is awarded to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for his new policy directive, released yesterday, which decreed that the text messages and other communications on telephone, text devices and pagers issued to city employees are private.

An attractive “Wouldn’t Touch It With A 10-Foot Pole” certificate is presented to the many county prosecutors who have declined the invitation of Kim Warren Eddie of the State Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council to investigate allegations that the head of the Wayne County prosecutor’s drug unit lied to jurors and allowed two cops to lie as well to obtain a conviction in a cocaine case. The situation is “complicated,” says Eddie.

The “Comforts Of Indoor Plumbing” plaque goes to the 42-2 District Court in New Baltimore, which will open for business Monday in a new, $7.5 million courthouse, complete with its own restroom facilities. The old building didn’t have any.

The “Mind Your Own Business” medallion is being presented by the state House of Representatives to Michigan employers who seek to control their employees’ legal, off-premises activities. A package of bills has cleared the lower chamber that would prevent, among other things, employers from firing or refusing to hire smokers, skydivers and motorcycle racers.

The “Fear And Loathing” award is bestowed upon Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, who is speculating that Kalamazoo-based billionaire Jon Stryker is preparing to spend some significant cash to oust Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor in November.

And last, but not least, the “Fish Or Cut Bait” loving cup is awarded to Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, who is talking a mean game against Taylor but, so far, has not revealed his party’s MSC candidate.

Leaders in the Law: Almost everyone will be there

By now, you should have seen, and followed, a link to the Leaders in the Law 2008 Honorees on our website.

Next Thursday, April 24, Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and our sister publication, Midwest In-House, will honor and celebrate these 20 in-house counsel from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Laurel Manor, 39000 Schoolcraft Rd. in Livonia. They’re being recognized for their outstanding professional accomplishments in the legal community and within their company. The honorees were nominated by colleagues, clients and other legal professionals and were selected by a panel of judges from their profession.

We’d like to report that everyone will be there. Inevitably, there were a few scheduling conflicts. And, as it turns out, one of the honorees, James D. Robb, the General Counsel and Associate Dean of Development and Alumni Relations for Thomas M. Cooley Law School, is also a cast member of A (Habeas) Chorus Line. Robb and the rest of the troupe have an engagement at another event that – ah-hem – is running at the same time as ours.

The show must go on – both of them.

We’re pretty sure our food will be better.

We still have a few tickets left. Call 800-678-5297 for more information.

Let’s make a deal: White, Murphy nominated to federal bench

In a deal designed to break an 11-year impasse of federal bench appointments involving Michigan nominees, President Bush has nominated Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Helene White to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

White was originally nominated by President Clinton in January 1997, but then-Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich) bottled things up and a confirmation hearing never took place before President Bush was first elected in 2000. Bush refused to re-nominate White.

Abraham lost his 2000 re-election bid to Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Long-serving Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich), and the newly elected Stabenow, put up a steady barrage of opposition to Bush’s federal judicial picks from Michigan, including the 2006 nominations of Detroit U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy (pictured right) and Troy attorney Raymond Kethledge (pictured left) to the Sixth Circuit.

The bottleneck was cleared yesterday when Bush agreed to withdraw Murphy’s Sixth Circuit nomination and nominate White to the federal appeals bench instead. Murphy was then nominated for a seat on the Eastern District of Michigan’s bench. To sweeten the deal, there is an apparent agreement to confirm Kethledge’s Sixth Circuit nomination.

The Associated Press, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News have more details.

MSC Historical Society marks 20th anniversary

Get a rich slice of Michigan Supreme Court history at the Annual Membership Luncheon of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society on Thursday, April 24, 2008, at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Things get underway with an 11:30 a.m. reception. There’s entertainment by A (Habeas) Chorus Line, and the presentation of the society’s Legal History Award to Professor John W. Reed.

If you’re interested in Michigan’s legal history, you’re invited. Tickets are $35. For more information and reservations, contact Angela Bergman, the society’s executive director, at (517) 373-7589.

Not exactly what Kilpatrick is looking for

Ralph Sherman is a clever mischief maker.

When the St. Clair Shores resident heard that embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was starting a legal defense fund and intended to call it the “Detroit Justice Fund,” Sherman filed the appropriate papers with the state, paid a $20 registration fee and grabbed the name for himself.

He’s already received two donations intended for the mayor: one for $100,000 in play money, and another containing a Chuck E. Cheese coupon and a suggestion that Kilpatrick’s mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, take her son out for a meal.

The Detroit Free Press has the story.