Diversity matters, Archer tells prospective Pledge signatories

Just steps away from the Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum, Dennis Archer offered his take on diversity in the legal profession during Thursday night’s Celebrate Diversity Reception, as part of the State Bar of Michigan annual meeting.

Archer — who served as SBM president from 1984-85, in addition to Detroit mayor, Michigan Supreme Court justice and 2003-04 ABA president — noted that between 2015-19, the majority of people ages 18 and younger in the U.S. will be people of color, and that 30 percent of the U.S. population as it stands now represents people of color.

And, he said, as the population has grown, the business community, wanting to capture global market share, has moved through diversity initiatives as a means of meeting what the rest of the world truly looks like.

As far back as Victoria Roberts’ term as SBM presidency, he said, gender and ethnic bias in the state court system has been studied. Under recent SBM presidents Edward Pappas, Charles Toy and, most recently, W. Anthony Jenkins, the Pledge to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion was formed, making its debut at the 2010 State Bar meeting in Grand Rapids. Although many small and big firms and solo practitioners have signed it since, the Pledge was reintroduced at the 2011 reception, with cleared room for new people to sign it. (The online version can be found here.)

Incidentally, the day before, Jenkins was overcome with emotion as he closed his final speech as 2010-11 SBM president. The soft-spoken Jenkins recalled how he grew up on Detroit’s east side and how hard he worked to make his professional dreams come through – a time that included a stint as a professional basketball player – and how proud he is to be in the legal realm. The room gave him a lengthy standing ovation.

What does Jenkins plan to do now? He told Lawyers Weekly that a break was in order, “just to regroup,” and then he’ll go back to his full-time gig as a corporate, municipal law and finance, and minority business enterprise specialist at Dickinson Wright PLLC.

Federal judge speaks to Wayne grads; Stupak joins D.C. firm

Here’s a roundup of upcoming legal events and people of note:

• The Hon. Avern Cohn of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan will speak at Wayne State University Law School’s annual commencement ceremony.

Cohn also will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the ceremony, which takes place 5 p.m. May 16 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.

“I am deeply honored to join the past recipients of an honorary degree from the Law School, to wit: Eugene Driker, Dennis Archer, Maura D. Corrigan, Marilyn Kelly and Harold Koh,” Cohn said.

Admission to the commencement is by ticket only. For more information, contact the Law School’s Dean of Students Office at (313) 577-3997 or lawdso@wayne.edu.

• Former nine-term Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, who played a lead role in passage of the landmark health care legislation of 2010, has joined Venable LLP as a Legislative and Government Affairs partner in the firm’s Washington office.

Stupak was a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Chairman of its subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

A former police officer and Michigan state trooper, Stupak became one of the leading congressional voices on law enforcement issues: in 1994 he created the first law enforcement caucus in Congress and went on to help write and pass substantial legislation to support law enforcement professionals.

Stupak also is serving as a Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and will be leading a study group on government investigations at the Kennedy School of Government entitled “Investigate or Irritate: Changing Corporate and Government Behavior.”

• A ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Crime Victims Rights Exhibit at the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center in Lansing is this coming Wednesday, April 13, at 3 p.m.

Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, former state legislator Senator Bill Van Regenmorter (author and proponent of Michigan’s Crime Victims Rights Act), and Attorney General Bill Schuette are scheduled to speak.

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan is co-sponsoring the event.

The educational exhibit is a tribute to crime victims and those who advocate for them. It will feature four panels, the exhibit educates the viewer about the act, and its meaning for crime victims, through interactive educational games.

• Know a great young attorney who has made great strides in his or her career? Then the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan wants to know more.

The section is now accepting nominations for the 2011 Regeana Myrick Outstanding Young Lawyer Award.

All nominations must be received by May 6. The recipient of the award will be chosen by the SBM-YLS Outstanding Young Lawyer Award Subcommittee, and will notified by May 13. The award will be presented during the Fourth Annual YLS Summit on Saturday, May 21, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.

In 1997, the Young Lawyers Section renamed its Outstanding Young Lawyer Award in honor of Regeana Myrick, an executive council member of the section who passed away in August of that year.

For more information, contact Brandy Y. Robinson at byrobinson@gmail.com.

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In the pipeline

If the profession of law is going to diversify its ranks, it’s going to have to start in the “pipeline” — the period of time when high school, or even junior high school, students are considering what they want to be when they grow up.

That’s where the CLEO Sophomore Summer Institute, which this summer will be offered for the first time in Michigan, is set up to catch young students and prepare them for the academic rigors of law school.

The institute will provide intensive, academic coursework to 25 Michigan undergraduate students at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus from June 1 – 30; applications are currently being accepted at http://www.cleoadmin.com/pre_law_programs/ssionlineMI.cfm and the deadline for submission is April 15.

It’s a perfect fit for Cooley, said , said Cooley Associate Dean John Nussbaumer.

“We graduated more minority students than any other law school in the country except for Georgetown University,” Nussbaumer said, citing data in the ABA Official Guides. “And we graduated more African American law school students than anyone but Howard or Texas Southern universities.”

Why that’s important, he said, is because the profession has not kept pace with other professions, when it comes to attracting lawyers from ethnic minorities.

“As a profession we are way behind other professions, when it comes to diversifying our ranks,” Nussbaumer said. “Doctors are way ahead of us. Accountants are way ahead of us. They’ve found a way and we have not.”

The reason, he said, is that other professions tend to take a more holistic approach when they view students entering their schools.

“But we weigh the LSAT too heavily,” he said.

The impact on the profession is going to be felt at firms’ bottom lines, according to Nussbaumer.

“The business case I would make to change this dynamic is that the U.S. Census Bureau has said that by 2042, the majority of U.S. citizens will be people of color,” he said. “Corporations have said to their legal counsel that they want law firms to look like the people they serve. Firms that diversify are going to be ahead of the curve.”

Then, of course, there is the larger issue — the moral obligation to address the reasons that students of color are shut out of law schools. The result is that they’re also shut out of positions of power, in politics and in business.

“Lawyers are supposed to be the leaders. For beter or worse, our leaders in government and business tend to be lawyers,” Nussbaumer said. “If we can’t solve this probelem within our own ranks, we’ll have a society that is mostly people of color and a legal profession that’s 90 percent white.”

The CLEO  program aims to help disadvantaged groups build the skills and confidence they need to succeed in law school. It will be offered at no cost to the students, as CLEO, Cooley and Oakland University will provide the support needed for the program.

“The Sophomore Summer Institute reflects CLEO’s mission of diversifying the legal profession by expanding legal education opportunities to minority, low-income and disadvantaged groups,” said CLEO Executive Director Cassandra Ogden. “The Program ensures that the legal profession is diversified with underserved populations who, despite scarce resources, have a continued burning desire to overcome any obstacles and attend law school. And, to ultimately become attorneys who ardently work for and impact the social justice system.  We are excited about partnering with Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Oakland University.”

The 22-day program for students completing their sophomore year of undergraduate studies is designed to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and in law school.  Students will participate in classes on logic and critical reasoning through classical philosophy and attend classes taught by Cooley faculty members in the areas of contracts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, legal writing, and appellate advocacy.

The capstone event of the program will be an oral argument conducted by a panel of Michigan Court of Appeals judges, led by Judge Cynthia D. Stephens. The students will review the briefs in the case, write a bench memorandum and orally argue the case themselves before panels of student judges, and then be the special guests of honor at the Court of Appeals argument.

Students in the program will receive a $750 stipend to cover travel expenses and lost income from potential summer employment. Some students may be eligible for two academic credits. Up to 10 of the 25 seats in the program will be available to OU students. Students will have no obligation to apply to or attend Cooley Law School.

CLEO has developed academic programs for disadvantaged students for more than 40 years, helping more than 8,000 low-income and minority students become successful members of the legal profession. This will be the first such program to be offered in Michigan and it has already garnered support from legal community leaders across the state.

“I speak from personal experience when I say that Cooley is genuinely committed to expanding the educational pipeline to the legal profession for these students and others like them,” said Marilyn Kelly, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who will be a keynote speaker at the Sophomore Summer Institute along with former ABA President and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.

Eighteen former and current State Bar of Michigan presidents have also voiced their support of the CLEO program.

“The State Bar of Michigan has for decades championed fairness and access to all in law school admissions, and supported the development and implementation of law school pipeline initiatives,” said the State Bar Presidents in their letter of support. “The ABA CLEO Sophomore Summer Institute has proven its worth as an effective instrument to help achieve these goals.”

Ten bar associations have formally committed to fund career exploration luncheons throughout the program, including panel presentations from their members.  These bar associations include the Arab American Bar Association, Association of Black Judges of Michigan, Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, Macomb County Bar Association, Oakland County Bar Association, D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, the Wolverine Bar Association and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.

“At a time when nearly two-thirds of all African American and half of all Hispanic and Mexican American applicants to law school are being totally shut-out from every law school they apply to for admission, programs like this one provide reason for hope that one day the legal profession will reflect the diversity of the clients we serve,” said Nussbaumer. Dean Nussbaumer will be taking a sabbatical this summer to direct the program, with the assistance of Cooley Professor E. Christopher Johnson, Jr., Director of Cooley’s Corporate Law and Finance LL.M. program.

AP: State House seeks funding for indigent defense

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan was a 19th century pioneer in providing legal aid to poor criminal suspects.

Now, it has one of the nation’s stingiest and most fragmented systems for representing the 80 percent of defendants who can’t afford a lawyer, a wide range of critics say.

The system often leads to people’s convictions being reversed because of mistakes an adequate legal defense should have caught. And it adds millions of dollars to prison costs for sentences that exceed state guidelines.

"Michigan’s neglect of many years generates large downstream costs," said Dawn Van Hoek, chief deputy director of the State Appellate Defender Office. "We need to connect the dots and adequately fund the system."

The office estimates Michigan would save $132 million a year in prison costs if it eliminated the excessive penalties judges impose because of improper application of state sentencing guidelines.

Of all the filings the State Appellate Defender Office made in 2008, 48 percent cited ineffective assistance of counsel, up from 14 percent in 1981.

With a class-action challenge to the system set for oral arguments next month before the Michigan Supreme Court, the state House Judiciary Committee is drafting a bipartisan proposal to overhaul Michigan’s 153-year-old indigent defense system.

The U.S. Supreme Court established the right to a free public defense in 1963, when it ruled for Florida convict Clarence Gideon that the Sixth Amendment required states to appoint lawyers for felony defendants who can’t afford them.

Michigan was ahead of the game then, having created its own county-level indigent defense system in 1857. Michigan even filed a brief in support of Gideon’s successful plea to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today, Michigan’s indigent defense system is "failing in nearly every way," former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Dennis Archer told a U.S. House Justice Committee hearing last year. Archer, a former president of the American Bar Association and two-term Detroit mayor, said the state now has "a patchwork of underfunded, unaccountable systems."

Michigan’s annual indigent defense spending of $74.4 million, or $7.35 per capita, is 38 percent below the national average and less than all but six states, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association said in "A Race to the Bottom," a report commissioned by Michigan lawmakers.

Courts in each of Michigan’s 83 counties set their own pay rates and hiring systems, deciding what portion of their state-set budgets to spend on indigent defense.

"The level of justice a poor person receives is dependent entirely on which side of a county line one’s crime is alleged to have been committed," the 115-page report said.

Lawmakers from both parties in the state Legislature recognize the need to act, said Kent County Republican state Rep. Justin Amash, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

However, bill sponsor Bob Constan, D-Dearborn Heights, acknowledged the measure will be a tough sell at a time when Michigan faces hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to K-12 schools, universities and health care.

"It’s just the lowest thing people want to fund," Constan said Thursday. He said implementation may have to be spread out over four years.

In place of the current system, House Bill 5675 would create a statewide public defense system to fund and supervise the work of lawyers who represent the poor.

An appointed Public Defense Commission would oversee separate offices for trial and appellate defenders. Appointments would have to be based on experience and skill, case loads would be limited and pay brought in line with that of prosecutors.

The bill also would create statewide standards for deciding who is poor enough to need legal aid and allow for some defendants to pay part of the cost. Regional offices would manage services, which would use a mix of private lawyers and salaried public defenders.

Speaking for the Michigan District Judges Association, Ingham County Judge Tom Boyd acknowledged problems with today’s system but told a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday he fears "unintended consequences" from a wasteful bureaucracy.

Should the Michigan Legislature fail to act on its own, the courts may force a change.

In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit against the state on behalf of poor defendants in Berrien, Genesee and Muskegon counties. The complaint said court-appointed lawyers in those counties were either too rushed or fear they won’t get more work if they slow down the docket with motions or requests for expert assistance.

National ACLU staff lawyer Robin Dahlberg told the Michigan House committee the passage of House Bill 5676 would go a long way toward fixing the problems.

"Until and unless the state does act, Michigan’s citizens will continue to be wrongfully deprived of their liberty," she testified.

HELP WANTED: Chief executive, must be miracle worker

With an unemployment rate of around 15 percent, you’d think that no job opening in Michigan would go unanswered.

But there’s one high profile job that will be available at the end of the year that no one seems to want to apply for: Democratic candidate for Governor of Michigan.

First Lt. Gov. John Cherry was forced to bow out of a race of which he was the front-runner because he couldn’t raise any money.

Next, former Detroit mayor and prominent attorney Dennis Archer declared that he wasn’t interested.

Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow have both said that they won’t run.  (It’s in there. Trust me.)

Now, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said he’s not running either.

While House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford) seems like a logical candidate that is well-known statewide, but his popularity among the party rank-and-file is questionable in light of his support of consolidating the benefit plans of all state employees. Plus, he’s only just formed a committee to raise money for a potential bid. What if he runs into the same problem that Cherry did?

It’s getting so strange that some of the names being bandied about as great candidates either have no public affairs experience  (Denise Ilitch) or just don’t make sense (Joe Dumars).

Surely, someone will take the plunge. Mike Cox is the only Republican to win a statewide election since 1998. [UPDATE: An astute commenter reminded me that Terri Lynn Land also won two elections as Secretary of State as a Republican. Thanks for reminding me.] (Judicial elections don’t count as they technically aren’t affiliated with parties). The task of following up Governor Granholm can’t be that daunting, can it?

(On second thought, don’t answer that.)

Archer won’t make bid for governor

Dennis Archer, former Detroit mayor, former Michigan Supreme Court justice, former president of the American Bar Association and current chairman of Dickinson Wright PLLC, says he doesn’t want to be the next governor of Michigan.

The 68-year-old Democrat told The Associated Press on Thursday that he is “not a candidate and will not be a candidate.”

He was mentioned as a possible candidate after Lt. Gov. John Cherry said Tuesday he would abandon his bid for governor.

Archer says he is “very happy” in his private life and his professional one as a lawyer in Detroit and “is not prepared to give that up again to become a public servant.”