Campaign finance controversy hits Oakland judicial race

In “The Distinguished Gentleman,” Eddie Murphy’s character won a congressional election on name recognition alone after his predecessor with a similar name died in office. Murphy’s character, Thomas Jefferson Johnson, shortened his name after Rep. Jeff Johnson died, staying out of the media and running on the slogan “the name you know.”

Since the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2010 decision in polarizing Citizens United decision, pundits have pontificated about the potential effect of unfettered spending on our presidential and congressional elections. And, of course, if you don’t watch everything on television from a DVR, you’re seeing those effects. (One thing is evident: the Moroun family has a lot of money to spend on television ads).

But perhaps not enough was made on the potential effect on local elections, where candidates generally aren’t funding their campaigns with million (or should I say billions) of dollars of other people’s money. A person with a lot of money to burn could tilt the balance of an election by allowing a candidate to flood the media with ads that the opponent couldn’t possibly match.

According to Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson, that may be happening in Oakland County circuit judge elections.

We know some anonymous donor is trying to buy himself a couple of seats on the Oakland County Circuit Court.

We know he’s dishonest.

We know he’s a coward.

We know he’s prepared to spend upward of $1.2 million on behalf of two little-known candidates who have made themselves scarce on the campaign trail and appear to have raised little or no campaign funds of their own.

The two candidates supported in advertising bought by the anonymous donor are both members of Attorney General Bill Schuette’s staff, William Rollstin and Deborah Carley. Both Rollstin and Carley are former Detroit area prosecutors. Carley was the chief deputy prosecutor under former Oakland prosecutor David Gorcyca. She left the office shortly before current prosecutor Jessica Cooper took over. Rollstin was a drug prosecutor in Wayne County.

Carley and Rollstin seem to have taken a page from Jeff Johnson: Their ads are plastered all over airwaves, but the candidates themselves are lying low.

Neither has made many public appearances since a political action committee bankrolled entirely by three conservative GOP donors based in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Virginia paid for the collection of petition signatures and other organizing expenses earlier this year. And neither participated in a videotaped candidates forum sponsored by the Oakland County League of Women Voters, the Oakland County Bar and the Free Press earlier this month.

Dickerson said neither of them responded to his calls or emails seeking comment.

The groups paying for the ads are “Americans for Job Security” and “Judicial Crisis Network.” Of the five judges running for re-election, the ads seem to be specifically targeting Oakland Circuit Judge Phyllis McMillen. Three of the other four judges were appointed by John Engler. The fifth judge, Leo Bowman, was appointed by Jennifer Granholm.

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Detroit hip hop act sues feds over gang classification

For those who grew up in the 1990s, the act at the center of this need no introduction. For the rest of you…

Meet the Insane Clown Posse. This Detroit “horrorcore” hip hop duo is perhaps best known for its short stint in the WWE (yes, that WWE) and for showering its fans at shows with Faygo sodas. The pair, dubbed Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, have been around for 20 years. You can’t be a music act for that long without having a loyal fan following. It’s logo is a silhouette of a clown running with a cleaver.

And boy, does ICP have a massive and loyal fan following. Their fans, called Juggalos, mostly travel far and wide to see the two, particularly at the annual “Gathering of the Juggalos,” a weekend long festival of music and frivolity starring ICP and the rest of the acts on its Psychopathic Records label. They even have an infomercial (language NSFW in places):

As you can imagine, Juggalos are largely young, white males who dress up like their ICP. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Juggalos are also a gang, a “non-traditional” one, right up there with the Latin Kings.

Represented by Birmingham-based entertainment lawyer Howard Hertz, the band has sued the federal government on behalf of its fans. Shaggy 2 Dope explained the band’s position to The Village Voice, complete with a civics lesson. [via Gawker]

“You’re trying to grow love in your country and s***,” Shaggy 2 Dope told me last month. “Then the head of your country—the FBI—just turns around and f***ing kicks you in the nuts. How are you supposed to respond to that?”

Yes, America, exactly how are you supposed to respond to that?

The VV writer went to the recent Gathering and heard first hand the Juggalos tales of woe.

Spend an hour wandering around the Gathering and you’ll hear story after story after story about cops, schools, and bureaucracies discriminating against Juggalos for wearing Insane Clown Posse gear and their label’s Hatchetman logo. There’s the guy who lost his kids to a foster home because of his tattoo. There’s the Juggalo who was discharged from the United States military for having a Psychopathic Records CD. There’s the Wisconsin kid who was forbidden from wearing Insane Clown Posse shirts to school, but didn’t have money for new clothes, so he kept getting suspended.

“I know it’s just Juggalos and to a lot of people out there, that’s the lowest life form,” acknowledges Violent J. “But they’re being fucked with heavily. And this is some extraordinary shit that’s happening to us.”

ICP has a website, JuggalosFightBack.com, at which its asking Juggalos to tell their tales of harassment so that they “can fight for you in Court.”

But seriously, the report is pretty strange, particularly in its description of a band’s “criminal” makeup.

 Most Juggalo criminal groups are not motivated to migrate based upon traditional needs of a gang.

That’s because they are 14.

And, fellas, if you don’t want you or your fans to be associated with gangs, it would help if you didn’t flash gang signs in photos on your website.

State Bar’s 78th president takes the wheel

After Grand Rapids litigator Bruce Courtade took oath as 78th president of the State Bar of Michigan on Sept. 20 at DeVos Place, he emphasized that bar dues would not be raised under his watch*.

Bruce Courtade (right) acknowledges the crowd after being sworn in as 78th State Bar of Michigan president by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr.

Why? “Because Jenny will kill me,” he said to a roomful of laughter. He was referring to his wife, Jenny DeLessio, who also is an attorney.

All kidding aside, Courtade said he’s ready to lead the 2012-13 year by moving forward with the SBM’s strategic plan, and with what has been recently put into place.

He noted that the SBM’s Solutions on Self-Help Task Force has gotten SCAO-approved forms accessible via the web for people who can’t afford a lawyer to take to court. The Q&A-style forms are in fourth-grade English and will help in uncontested divorces and PPOs.

Courtade also said that the recommendations from the Judicial Crossroads Task Force initiative will continue to work for funding for legal aid providers and advocating for indigent defense issues. He noted that a House bill for indigent defense has gotten 77 co-sponsors as it goes to a vote this coming week, and he’s hopeful it will receive similar reception in the Senate

And, as he told Michigan Lawyers Weekly in a recent article, he wants to push for civics education in schools, and making citizens aware of the Constitution and their constitutional rights. To show his seriousness on that, he made sure a copy of the U.S. Constitution was on each table at his swearing-in luncheon.

“I’m not a constitutional scholar,” he said. “I carry the Constitution with me at all times to remind me why we do what we do. … It’s the words that are contained in it that makes our more perfect union more perfect.”

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan announces Dana Warnez as the newly sworn in chair of the Representative Assembly.

Right next door, at the Representative Assembly, Dana Warnez was sworn in as its 2012-13 chair, with Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan leading the proceedings. The RA also elected Vanessa Williams as its new clerk.

*As an earlier blog post noted, SBM dues actually have been reduced.

Groups call citizenship declaration to vote unconstitutional

The ACLU and several other organizations that support voting rights filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s citizen “checkboxes” printed on ballot application forms.

The forms, which were used in February’s presidential primary and August state primary elections, ask the prospective voter to check a box declaring that they are a U.S. citizen. In July, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have required the declaration, but Johnson pushed ahead with the forms in the August primaries anyway.

According to an ACLU statement, the forms created confusion at polling centers, forcing Johnson to issue a directive to poll workers that the checkboxes were unenforceable. The Michigan Election Coalition asked Johnson to remove the box from the November forms but she refused, prompting the lawsuit.

“The Secretary of State may be the chief election officer in the state, but she is not above the law,” ACLU of Michigan executive director Kary Moss said in the statement. “By ignoring the administrative rule-making and legislative processes, she has thumbed her nose at the electorate and flouted the very laws she was elected to uphold. We can all agree that it should be easier to vote and harder to cheat, but cynical voter suppression tactics should not be tolerated.”

Amway drops suit against Oregon eBay sellers

A federal lawsuit that Amway and parent company Alticor filed in June against an Oregon couple has been dropped, Mlive reports.

The Grand Rapids direct-sales giant accused Brian and Natalie Schirle, of Bend, Ore., of acquiring Amway and Alticor products from employees and distributors, then reselling them on eBay.

Among Amway’s grievances were: the products allegedly sold through the couple’s online auctions came with a limited return policy; products were repackaged; and buyers were encouraged to send proof of purchase tabs to get free product from the company.

According to the suit, customers “indicated that they were confused as to whether products sold by the Schirleses were genuine or not,” and disgruntled customers associated their frustration with Amway.

In addition, Mlive reported, “Amway contended the eBay sales aren’t protected under first-sale doctrine because the products were acquired from employees and distributors in violation of company policy. First-sale doctrine gives people who make a legal purchase the right to resell a product without obtaining the permission of the rights holder.”

Terms of the settlement are confidential.

In other eBay-related news, the online auction giant’s new logo is boring.

Injured Bernstein files suit against New York

Disability rights advocate Richard Bernstein filed suit against the city of New York for “dangerous inaccessibility of Central Park for blind pedestrians and others.”

He filed suit today to “stop the City of New York and New York City Department of Transportation from discriminating against blind, visually impaired and other disabled individuals by denying them equal access to Manhattan’s Central Park.”

Bernstein has been in Mt. Sinai hospital for a month because of a fractured pelvis and hip and severe facial injuries caused by a bicyclist going 35 miles per hour. Bernstein was walking and was hit in the back by the cyclist, who was looking at his rear tire — the cyclist admitted fault.

According to his suit, Central Park is surrounded by a boundary created by East and West Drives, enclosing the majority of the park. He says the defendants have refused to enforce rules mandating bicyclists to stop at red lights and stop signs and allow cyclists to pass pedestrian crosswalks without stopping, denying visitors safe entry to the public park.

Bernstein is not asking for monetary damages, and said he only wants an order requiring the defendants to stop violating federal law and discriminating against blind, visually impaired or other disabled individuals by denying them equal access to Central Park.

Bernstein is blind, and has successfully represented the disabled in numerous cases, including the Detroit Department of Transportation for bus accessibility, the University of Michigan for stadium accessibility and Detroit Metro Airport for better disabled access.