Michigan panhandler law struck down

The Associated Press has reported that U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker has ruled a state law banning panhandling in public places violates First Amendment protections for free speech and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The opinion concerns James Speet and Ernest Sims, two Grand Rapids men arrested in 2011 for begging. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Speet, who is homeless, was arrested for holding up signs seeking “work or help.” Sims pleaded guilty to panhandling after asking for spare change. Both men receive food stamps, and Sims also receives $260 per month in state disability insurance.

Grand Rapids enforced the panhandling ban 399 times between Jan. 1, 2008, and May 24, 2011, the ACLU said.

“Pending future developments in this case, Grand Rapids police will not be enforcing this state law,” said Catherine Mish, Grand Rapids’ city attorney, adding that it’s too early to tell whether an appeal will be filed.

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SBM executive director gets Lawyers Weekly’s top honor as 2011 Woman of the Year

Janet K. Welch, executive director of the State Bar of Michigan, was named Woman of the Year at Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2011 Women in the Law event. (See her blog post here)

At the Sept. 26 luncheon at the Detroit Marriott in Troy, Lawyers Weekly Publisher Don Stemmermann remarked that Welch “is the proverbial ‘lawyer’s lawyer,’ an attorney whose judgment and opinions are sought after — and respected — by her colleagues. And she is a leader of her colleagues as well — more than 41,000 of them.

“I believe each of you will see a little of yourself in her.”

In her acceptance speech, which followed personal recognition of 19 other honorees (see below), Welch said “that description is accurate, in that every one of my amazing colleagues in the group of lawyers who were honored today does share so many characteristics with me.

“They are amazing lawyers, and they are women, which means that all the achievements you heard about … we had to sort of do a lot of what we did in high heels and backwards,” referencing Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. “So I think it’s more impressive to be in a group of women lawyers than in just a group of 20 lawyers being honored.”

At the event, it was noted that Welch worked as a legislative analyst in both the Michigan House and Senate. This led her to law school, then a distinguished career of government service, first with the Michigan Supreme Court, then the State Bar.

Recently, Welch was hands-on with State Bar’s Judicial Crossroads Task Force, which generated a much-needed blueprint for court-system reform. The judiciary is solidly behind it, and favorable legislative action is anticipated.

In closing, Welch said, “Thank you to Lawyers Weekly, and to the lawyers in Michigan who are working to make the profession better. We’ve still got work to do, and we’re going to do it.”

The other 19 honorees recognized at the event are:

• Natalie Alane, Alane & Chartier, PLC

• Hon. Dorene S. Allen, Midland County Probate Court

• D. Jennifer Andreou, Plunkett Cooney

• Mary V. Bauman, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, PLC

• Elizabeth K. Bransdorfer, Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones PLC

• Hon. Diane M. Druzinski, Macomb Circuit Court

• Elizabeth J. Fossel, Varnum LLP

• Lisa Sommers Gretchko, Howard & Howard Attorneys, PLLC

• Jennifer M. Grieco, Neuman Anderson, P.C.

• Eileen K. Husband, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C.

• Nancy L. Little, Bernick, Radner & Ouellette, P.C.

• Andrea L. Moody, Bowman and Brooke LLP

• Kary L. Moss, American Civil Liberties Union

• Kathryn L. Ossian, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.

• Linda Paullin-Hebden, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP

• Abby L. Pendleton, The Health Law Partners

• Tonya Schuitmaker, Schuitmaker Cooper Schuitmaker Cypher & Knotek, P.C.

• Tricia A. Sherick, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP

• Zena D. Zumeta, Mediation Training & Consultation Institute

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Women in the Law 2011 selected

After receiving numerous nominations for Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s Women in the Law for 2011, 20 honorees have been chosen.

The honorees will be recognized in a special section to be published Sept. 12, and at the second annual Women in the Law luncheon Sept. 26 at the Detroit Marriott in Troy. The 2011 Woman of the Year, chosen from the 20, also will be named at the event

A Lawyers Weekly editorial panel selected the 20, and considered a number of criteria, including how the nominees:

• Commit to excellence in the practice of law;

• Serve as inspiring and accomplished leaders in the profession;

• Are mentors to other women; and

• Contribute significant time and effort to volunteerism and/or pro bono.

“We received so many great nominations, it really shows the breadth and depth of women in the legal community in Michigan,” said Publisher Donald Stemmermann. “There were difficult decisions to be made, but in our view, all of the nominees are winners. With so many great candidates comes a great opportunity for us to showcase the best of the best with these honorees.”

The honorees are:

Natalie Alane, Alane & Chartier, PLC

Hon. Dorene S. Allen, Midland County Probate Court

D. Jennifer Andreou, Plunkett Cooney

Mary V. Bauman, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, PLC

Elizabeth K. Bransdorfer, Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones PLC

Hon. Diane M. Druzinski, Macomb Circuit Court

Elizabeth J. Fossel, Varnum LLP

Lisa Sommers Gretchko, Howard & Howard Attorneys, PLLC

Jennifer M. Grieco, Neuman Anderson, P.C.

Eileen K. Husband, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C.

Nancy L. Little, Bernick, Radner & Ouellette, P.C.

Andrea L. Moody, Bowman and Brooke LLP

Kary L. Moss, American Civil Liberties Union

Kathryn L. Ossian, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.

Linda Paullin-Hebden, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP

Abby L. Pendleton, The Health Law Partners

Tonya Schuitmaker, Schuitmaker Cooper Schuitmaker Cypher & Knotek, P.C.

Tricia A. Sherick, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP

Janet K. Welch, State Bar of Michigan

Zena D. Zumeta, Mediation Training & Consultation Institute

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In their opinions

“When a government entity speaks only and continually about posting a religious document, treats the religious document as separate and distinct from the history-related documents, and focuses principally on ensuring that the religious document is posted in a way that does not upset ‘the [American] Civil Liberties [Union],’ an objective observer would rightly conclude that the predominant purpose behind hanging the religious document was to support and spread the religious message.”

6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Karen Nelson Moore, dissenting in ACLU of Kentucky, et al. v. Grayson County, Kentucky.

It’s not the thought that counts.

The misleadingly named Grayson County Fiscal Court has no judicial responsibilities. It is the Tennessee equivalent of a county board of commissioners in Michigan, and as such, manages the county courthouse.

The Fiscal Court

approved a proposal to hang a “Foundations of American Law and Government Display” in the county courthouse. The display consisted of nine historical documents, including a copy of the Ten Commandments, along with an “Explanation Document” purporting to describe the significance of these items as foundations of law and government in the United States. …

The display includes the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, The Star Spangled Banner, the National Motto, the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a picture of Lady Justice.

There’s precedent for this sort of thing, Mercer County v. ACLU, 432 F.3d 624 (6th Cir. 2005).

The majority in ACLU v. Grayson County applied Mercer County to reverse a federal district court ruling that the display crossed the line drawn, as the majority put it, by the U.S. Supreme Court’s “convoluted” Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David McKeague, joined by Judge Karl S. Forester, sitting by designation, wrote

The historical and educational purpose of the Foundations Display was made manifestly apparent to any objective observer through the contents and context of the display from the date of its initial installation, immediately after the display was approved and weeks before litigation commenced.

But, according to Judge Moore in her dissent

“The eyes that look to purpose” behind government action, “belong to an ‘objective observer,'” … a person who is “presumed to be aware of the text, legislative history, and implementation of the state action.” Mercer County, 432 F.3d at 630[.]

And, according to Moore’s sifting of the record, the “asserted purpose here – that the Display was posted for educational or historical reasons – is a sham and should be rejected.”

Moore noted that a religious leader asked the Fiscal Court to post the Ten Commandments in the courthouse and suggested that placing them with other historical documents would stave off the ACLU.

Fiscal Court members asked the county’s attorney about posting the Ten Commandments “in a way that would not cause problems for the County … .”

Moore asserted that the evidence

clearly indicates that the predominant purpose was to post the Ten Commandments as a religious text and that the additional, “Historical Documents” were added merely to avoid violating the Constitution.

Most notably, throughout the Fiscal Court’s discussion of whether to erect a display, the Ten Commandments were always treated as separate from and more important than any of the “Historical Documents” mentioned. Reverend Shartzer, a religious leader, specifically asked the Fiscal Court to display the Ten Commandments.

Magistrates Hornback and Farris, both government officials, singled out the Ten Commandments as their primary focus when making their respective motions to place the Display in the courthouse and clearly considered the “Historical Documents” as distinct from the Ten Commandments.

Indeed, the actual orders that the Fiscal Court passed on September 18 and September 28 both focused on hanging the Ten Commandments and explicitly distinguished them from the “Historical Documents,” which were mentioned in passing and only as a way to attempt to avoid constitutional problems. …

Under such circumstances, the desire to post the religious document establishes the predominant purpose, even if the government entity never bluntly states that purpose as its rationale.