Part of funeral protest law too vague to enforce, fed court rules

A federal judge’s decision to strike part of Michigan’s funeral protest law as unconstitutional has both sides declaring victory. [Detroit Free Press]

Judge Thomas Ludington struck subsection (c) of MCL 750.167d, which states:

(c) Engage in any other conduct that the person knows or should reasonably know will disturb, disrupt, or adversely affect the funeral, memorial service, viewing of the deceased person, funeral procession, or burial

Ludington said the subsection was unconstitutional because it was too vague for police to enforce. He left the remainder of the statute intact.

In the case, police pulled an Army vet and his wife from a 2007 funeral procession for having an anti-war sign on their vehicle.  The Freep’s David Ashenfelter talked to both the ACLU and Michigan Attorney General’s office, with both declaring victory.

“It’s a complete vindication of Lewis and Jean Lowden,” said Detroit attorney Hugh (Buck) Davis, who represented the family with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

He said they were humiliated for simply trying to attend a funeral. Lowden could not be reached for comment.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which had tried to get the suit dismissed, also declared victory.

“This is a victory for protecting the sanctity of funerals and the privacy of families who have suffered a tragic loss,” said spokesman John Sellek, saying Ludington’s decision struck two words — “adversely affect” — from the statute. “The law essentially remains in place.”

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Andrew Shirvell fired from AG’s office.

Our national state nightmare is over. OK, so that overstates it a little (or a lot). From the AP:

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A lawyer for an assistant state attorney general accused of harassing the gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan has been fired.

Philip Thomas says Andrew Shirvell was fired Monday.

Shirvell was at a disciplinary hearing Monday at the Michigan attorney general’s office related to the issue.

The attorney general’s office is declining immediate comment.

Shirvell went on a leave about a month ago after national criticism erupted over a blog he wrote characterizing student leader Chris Armstrong as a "racist" and "liar" who promoted a "radical homosexual agenda."

Thomas has said Shirvell’s actions were constitutionally protected as free speech.

No idea what we’re talking about? Here’s our original post, then the time he showed up on Anderson Cooper, when Mike Cox said he wouldn’t be fired, and when he inexplicably showed up on “The Daily Show” thinking it was a serious interview.

DOJ, State files anti-trust suit against Blue Cross

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department alleged Monday in a lawsuit that Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield is discouraging competition by engaging in practices that raise hospital prices, conduct an assistant attorney general vowed to challenge anywhere else it is found in the United States.

The suit targets "most favored nation" clauses between Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield and health care providers which, according to the government, essentially guarantee that no competing health care plan can obtain a better rate.

Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield has most-favored-nation clauses or similar language in contracts with at least 70 of 131 general acute care hospitals in the state, the government alleges.

The lawsuit said that Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield intended to raise hospital costs for competing health care plans and reduce competition for the sale of health insurance.

"As a result, consumers in Michigan are paying more for their health care services and health insurance," Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, who runs the Justice Department’s antitrust division, told reporters.

In some instances, the lawsuit states, Blue Cross has raised the prices it pays for hospital services in exchange for obtaining most-favored-nation clauses that raise the minimum prices hospitals can charge to Blue Cross competitors.

The state of Michigan joined the Justice Department in the case filed in federal court in Detroit.

In response, Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield said the lawsuit is seeking to restrict the nonprofit company’s ability to provide the most deeply discounted rates from Michigan hospitals. The company said that negotiated hospital discounts are a tool that Blue Cross uses to protect the affordability of health insurance for millions of Michigan residents.

"Our hospital discounts are a vital part of our statutory mission to provide Michigan residents with statewide access to health care at a reasonable cost," the company said.

The lawsuit outlines two types of most-favored-nation clauses requiring a hospital to provide services to Blue Cross competitors either at higher prices than Blue Cross pays or at prices no less than Blue Cross pays.

In alleging violations of the Sherman Act and the Michigan Antitrust Reform Act, the government said that under the "MFN-plus" clause, Blue Cross negotiated agreements requiring 22 hospitals to charge some or all other commercial insurers more than the hospital charges Blue Cross. Under the other clause, Blue Cross has agreements requiring more than 40 small, community hospitals to charge other commercial health insurers at least as much as they charge Blue Cross.

Varney declined to say whether the Justice Department has open inquiries in other states of most-favored-nation clauses, which are not illegal unless they stifle competition.

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Asst. AG (Anti-Gay) III: Cox explains decision to keep Shirvell

[In case you missed them: Part I/Part II]

The saga of Andrew Shirvell and his vendetta against a college student continues, as his boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to explain his decision not to fire Shirvell. [Video of the interview at the link]

While Cox didn’t exactly defend Shirvell, calling him a bully, he said Shirvell has the right to publish the things he did under the First Amendment.

Democratic candidate for AG David Leyton has called for his Republican counterpart, Bill Schuette, to join him in calling for Shirvell to be fired.

UPDATE: From the Detroit News, Cox has now suspended Shirvell.

Attorney General Mike Cox changed his stance Thursday, suspending Andrew Shirvell after the assistant attorney general attracted national attention for a controversial blog that ridicules and denounces a University of Michigan student leader for his gay advocacy, religious beliefs and character.

The suspension came a day after Cox told CNN he didn’t intend to fire Shirvell, citing civil service rules that protect government employees from being "fired willy-nilly" for exercising their rights of free speech.

UPDATE II: From the Michigan Daily, the AG’s office says Shirvell took a leave of absence on his own accord.

Asst. AG With Vendetta Against College Student Speaks to CNN’s Anderson Cooper

A couple weeks ago, I posted about Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, proprietor of the previously profiled “Chris Armstrong Watch,” through which he obsesses over a college student.

He was a guest on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to explain his crusade. Against a college student.

I think Cooper sums up the problem with his opening question:

You’re a state official. This is a college student. What are you doing here?

Shirvell said he’s got nothing personal against him. He said he’s doing it as a private citizen off of work time. Then he should explain how he knows so much about the “criminal” records of Chris Anderson and friends.

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Assistant AG Has Vendetta Against College Student

Sometimes, we get to report inspirational stories about ordinary people who rise up to fight against seemingly insurmountable opposition and succeed.

This is not one of those stories.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite: what happens when a person who rises to a prestigious position become obsessed with someone far below them that it exposes what a sad and pathetic person they are. Like when an assistant attorney general makes it his duty to take down a college student body president.

As The Detroit News reported today, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox rebuked assistant AG Andrew Shirvell for statements made on his blog against University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong. (Long story short: Shirvell doesn’t like Armstrong because he’s gay.)

“All state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours,” Cox said in a statement issued Wednesday. “But (Andrew) Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

The name of Shirvell’s blog? Chris Armstrong Watch. Yes, an assistant attorney general, one of the state’s top prosecutors, has started a blog solely for the purpose of attacking a college student. A grown man, going after a college student. No one says he doesn’t have the right to do it, but that makes it no less sad and pathetic.

Sample posting:

BOMBSHELL: Ann Arbor Police Raid Chris Armstrong’s Out-of-Control ‘Gay Rush’ Welcome Week Party

Summary: A house full of college students had a party that went late (after 1 am) and the police were called because it was late, loud and the students were hanging outside in the yards. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS! EVER!

I wonder how the police were tipped off to this mayhem. Could have been the same guy who was aghast that the party was even planned to begin with:

OUTRAGE ALERT: Armstrong Invites U of M Freshmen to Join the Homosexual Lifestyle

And probably the same guy who just so happened to be present to take a video of the police arrival? You know, the guy whose YouTube handle is “AntiArmstrong.” (Just one video posted. Ever.) I don’t know whose page that is but I’d bet money his initials are “A.S.”

Shirvell was disappointed to report in the post that “it’s not clear whether the police issued any minor in possession (MIP) citations…” Because the police often go to parties with rampant mayhem and don’t even issue MIP citations.

He actually resorts to Facebook-stalking Armstrong and his friends comments, posting screenshots of each. (What’s interesting is that, for most Facebook pages, you cannot see a person’s postings without friending them. Yet Shirvell has screenshots of Armstrong’s and several of his friends’ pages as evidence. Could it be that Shirvell has resorted to making a fake Facebook page in order to spy on college students? I sure hope not.)

And it’s rampant Facebook-stalking. One thing is certain: that he knows way too much about the goings on of Armstrong and his friends. Such as:

Fresh off a three-week European vacation, MSA Business Representative Serwer, pictured above with police, was asked to produce identification, which he eventually complied with only after he went back inside the house to find it.

OMG! Serwer DIDN’T HAVE HIS ID ON HIM! Someone ready the electric chair. He also knows that Armstrong attended last weekend’s Lady Gaga concert.

He outs as homosexuals other people with whom Armstrong is associated, armed with photographic evidence of a hug between the two which, “in a light more favorable to the nonmoving party” appears to be a joke of sorts.

He even trashes the parenting of  the mother of one of Armstrong’s friends for *gasp* taking her of-age son to Soaring Eagle Casino! He also discovered a fact that certainly must result in the mother’s parental rights being terminated: she makes a joke about her son having a fake ID!

The situation should put Cox into a tizzy. While he’s issued a “rebuke,” the AG’s office has said it will not comment further. This is pretty sad for an office that lauds its fight against cyberbullying. From the AG’s offices own document, titled “A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying”:

A cyberbully is someone who uses technology to harass, embarrass, intimidate, or stalk someone else.

The methods a cyberbully could use to harass the victim include the following:

• posting of secrets or embarrassing information, including pictures, for everyone to see

• posting of gossip or rumors for the explicit purpose of damaging the person’s reputation

• distribution of messages pretending to be the victim in an attempt to damage that person’s friendships

• alienation of the victim from online groups.

And I’d say this is a pretty textbook example.

West Michigan legal news links

Ottawa County Prosecutor Kent Engle has announced his candidacy for retiring circuit judge Calvin Bosman’s seat.

RhemDcolorUPDATE: David A. Rhem, pictured left, a partner at Varnum LLP, has also announced his candidacy for Bosman’s seat. The seat will be filled during the November 2010 election.

 

 

 

Muskegon County Drain Commissioner Jeffrey Hepler has been charged with making a false police report. Hepler allegedly reported to police that his motorcycle was stolen after crashing it last August.

Attorney General Mike Cox said that he’ll go to court to force the closure of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in order to protect Lake Michigan from Asian carp.

Two Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University Michigan State University College of Law professors have started a project to legalize e-marriages (in which couples are allowed to marry over the internet under the laws of whatever jurisdiction they choose).