No canned laughter for the real thing

In a classic two-part “Seinfeld” episode from the mid 90s, Newman, the pudgy mail carrier, ensnares wild-haired Kramer in a madcap scheme to profit from Michigan’s 10-cent beverage container deposit law by collecting 5-cent bottles and cans in New York and driving here to cash them in.

In the show about nothing but where improbable events happen continuously, Newman, Kramer and the containers never make it to Michigan. The cargo is jettisoned, along with Newman, somewhere in Ohio to make the truck go faster as Kramer chases a stolen car belonging to Jerry, the title character.

The stolen car’s driver, the mechanic who was supposed to fix it, disables the pursuing truck by tossing golf clubs at it from a set he finds in the back seat. One of the clubs nails the truck’s radiator. These clubs were once owned by President John F. Kennedy.

Don’t ask. Get the DVD if you can’t remember or if you’re even slightly curious.

And know this for certain: life does imitate art.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has announced that 15 individuals from Michigan and Ohio are being charged with a complex scheme that allegedly involved collecting millions of non-deposit bottles and cans from outside Michigan, crushing and bagging them, and then selling them to Michigan stores at a discount. The storekeepers then allegedly took the crushed containers to bulk redemption centers and obtained payments from the Michigan Bottle Deposit Fund.

Thirteen people have been arrested so far. Over $500,000 has been seized. Twenty search warrants are being executed today. All of this caps an 18-month investigation.

“A half-million in cash is not ‘Seinfeld’ humor,” said Cox spokesman Matt Frendewey.

The public should care

Oakland County Probate Judge Eugene Arthur Moore took to the pages of the Saginaw News a couple of weeks ago with a guest column entitled, “Change rules to raise confidence in court.”

He wrote about the need to ensure the public’s faith in the legal system. Two reforms, according to Judge Moore, will help accomplish this.

First, the Michigan Supreme Court needs to formally adopt rules “that give litigants and their attorneys a clear basis for knowing when a Supreme Court justice should be disqualified from hearing a case.”

Second, “the Supreme Court must adopt a rule that does not restrict what justices may write in their opinions.”

We’ve previously written about both issues. See, “If it ain’t broke … MSC declares procedures for handling recusal motions don’t need fixing,”
and, “Supreme Court confidential … MSC’s codification of unwritten ‘deliberative privilege’ draws on historical practices, raises enforcement questions.”

These are important issues, to be sure. But frankly, it was Judge Moore’s opening observation that drew my attention.

“[W]e need to make sure we have fair and impartial judges. The public doesn’t care if we were appointed by a Republican or Democratic governor, whether we are members of the Federalist Society or The American Constitution Society, whether we are a ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.'”

Yet, in the high-stakes game of selecting justices for the Michigan Supreme Court, either by gubernatorial appointment or election, it is precisely these considerations that come into play.

It’s hard to ignore them, given that MSC candidates are nominated by political parties but later presented to the public on a nonpartisan ballot.

Some folks need to have the public to care very much, otherwise millions of campaign dollars are being ill-spent to influence choices.

Consider a recent report from our good friends at the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS).

“Keeping in place ‘the nation’s most conservative Supreme Court’ after 2008 will be an expensive affair and it can be made easier if those attending the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference open up their wallets and Lincoln Day dinners for incumbent Chief Justice Clifford TAYLOR, said Justice Robert YOUNG on Saturday morning [September 22],” according to the MIRS report.

“The Supreme Court is holding a ‘razor-thin’ 4-3 conservative majority on the state’s high bench,” Young said, conveniently roping in fellow Republican-nominated and independent-minded Elizabeth WEAVER with the rest of the ‘liberal, law-writing judges.’

“Like the six prior Supreme Court elections before it, Taylor’s 2008 re-election to the court ‘Ronald REAGAN always wanted’ will be hotly contested by ‘the usual suspects’ in an estimated $20 million campaign,” MIRS reported.

Now consider Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer’s response to Young’s remarks.

“Taylor will lose a $20 million race because we will do whatever it takes to beat him,” Brewer said. “From abusing perks to controversial decisions to Supreme Court infighting, Cliff Taylor’s term as Chief Justice has made the people of Michigan hold their heads in shame. Even $20 million won’t dig him out of the hole he is in.”

The Democrats are currently hunkered down, feverishly calculating who to spend their $20 million on in an effort to unseat Justice Taylor.

Both political parties are paying an awful lot of attention to something that, if Judge Moore is correct, the public doesn’t care about.

What does the public really want?

“What they want,” according to Judge Moore, “is for us, as judges, to listen to the facts and decide the case based on the law. Our bias, prejudice, judicial philosophy or political beliefs should be left at home.”

But all of that is baggage that you’re expected to pack and take with you on your way to the bench, especially when someone else has bought you a first-class ticket for the trip.

Maybe Judge Moore is right. Maybe the public doesn’t care.

But if the public doesn’t care, there are at least 20 million reasons why they should.

Pointless pleading

You may recall a case that got some national attention recently, in which a Nebraska state judge enjoined the use of words like “rape” and “victim” at a sexual assault trial. The complaining witness then sued the judge in federal district court on a First Amendment theory.

The federal suit, according to the Associated Press, angered Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers.

“This lawsuit having been filed and being of such questionable merit creates a circumstance where my lawsuit is appropriately filed,” the Cornhusker lawmaker explained.

His suit, duly docketed in the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, is captioned, State Senator Ernie Chambers v. God.

You read it right.

The complaint blames God for every terrible wrong that has ever happened in the world, including “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like.”

No jurisdictional problems here, the complaint alleges, because God is everywhere, including Douglas County.

No problems with service of process, either. If the court won’t waive personal service, the court should take judicial notice that God is all-knowing and thus has actual notice, according to paragraphs 15 through 17 of the pleading.

District Court Judge Marlon A. Polk, the unlucky jurist who was assigned the case, is being asked to slap the Almighty with an injunction to desist “from engaging in the types of deleterious actions and making of terrorist threats as identified and described herein.”

It remains unclear how such an injunction would be enforced against a deity that many folks presume to be all-powerful.

All kidding aside, what is clear is that Judge Polk should drop-kick this one right out of his courtroom with all the frivolous-complaint sanctions he can issue under Nebraska’s court rules and statutes.

“Chambers says he’s trying to make the point that anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody,” writes the AP’s Nate Jenkins.

Sorry, Senator Chambers, with a suit like this, I’m not getting the point at all.

Bow-WOW! Dog’s surf-board rescue from lake makes judges proud

From the Associated Press comes a story about a Lake Michigan surfer, Matt Smolenski, who rescued a drowning dog after a large wave swept the poor pooch from the Grand Haven pier.

An off-duty cop saw the whole thing. He said Smolenski put the dog on his surfboard and braved big waves and a strong current to get him and the dog to shore.

The rescuer’s last name should be a familiar one to the bench and bar. He’s the second cousin of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael R. Smolenski and the Hon. Sara J. Smolenski, chief judge of Kent County’s 63rd District Court, who the AP quotes as saying of Matt, “He’s a great kid and it certainly sounds like something he would do.”