Teamsters and Chamber: ‘Strange bedfellows’

As the old saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Traverse City Record-Eagle noted that the Teamsters and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce have both filed briefs in the Acme Township v Meijer, Inc. case currently before the Michigan Supreme Court – both in support of Meijer.

The odd coupling consists of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Education Association, and Michigan Teamsters, who’ve spent millions to influence statewide elections. The Chamber and union groups mostly are bitter adversaries who spend campaign loot to crush the other side’s candidates.

But business and labor recently embraced like old frat brothers back on campus for homecoming. Why? Some noble mind-meld designed to pull salvageable bits of Michigan’s economy from the scrap heap?

Nope.

The Chamber and unions found common ground for one reason — self-protection.

Long story short: After being refused a zoning change to allow a new Meijer in Acme, the company allegedly created and funneled money into “bogus” citizens’ groups and a recall drive to remove politicians that opposed the new store. (Click here for the full blow-by-blow account).

Is this the End of Days?

No, says the TCRE, which opined that each side is trying to send a message to their respective justices:

The Michigan Chamber has pumped millions into campaigns to aid three current members of the state Supreme Court; the unions have significantly boosted Court Democrats, as well.

Might they be sending a not-so-subtle message to their high court beneficiaries? And might they be concerned some prosecutor will poke around their campaign practices?

The appeals court ruled conciliation deals do not negate potential criminal prosecutions. In short, those who break the law should be prepared to pay the consequences and not buy their way off the hook.

Acme residents deserve to know who’s responsible for the attempted coups in their community, and the Supreme Court should ignore big-dollar special interests who are best-served by secrecy and murk.

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MCOC targets ‘lawsuit abuse’

“Lawsuit Abuse” is among the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s top legislative priorities for the Michigan Legislature’s 2009-2010 session.

Here’s what chamber members advocate:

  • Protecting current Michigan laws pertaining to general tort, medical liability, consumer protection and products liability, including Michigan’s FDA [Food and Drug Administration] Defense law.
  • Supporting reforms, such as limitation on attorney fees and loser pay, which ensure Michigan’s civil justice system is fair and balanced.
  • Preserving Michigan’s No-Fault automobile insurance system while allowing for competition, flexibility and choice in the marketplace and opposing attempts to reduce the tort liability threshold or increase the benefit or coverage thresholds.
  • Maintaining the right to enter into pre-dispute agreements requiring arbitration.

The Chamber’s rationale for these priorities seems to be that its members are happy with the current state of affairs.

The general, medical and products liability reforms that were enacted by the Legislature in the 1980s and 1990s have been effective in bringing reliability and balance to our legal system by curtailing lawsuit abuse, helping to retain practicing physicians in Michigan, and focusing court and financial resources on legitimate cases. Given Michigan’s reputation as a leader in the national legal reform movement, Michigan cannot afford to turn back the clock and should instead proactively work to strengthen and improve the state’s civil justice system. For similar reasons, the Michigan Chamber is opposed to any legislative attempts to erode the tort thresholds under Michigan’s No-Fault insurance system. Furthermore, parties should be free to agree in advance to a prompt, efficient and fair dispute resolution process outside of the court system.

The no-fault act’s “serious impairment” threshold is the issue making the Chamber most nervous. This issue will first play out, not in the Legislature, but in the Michigan Supreme Court, where the Chamber’s influence has waned with the departure of former Justice Clifford Taylor and the election of Justice Diane Hathaway.

Tort recovery under the no-fault act is available when traffic accident injuries constitute a “serious impairment of body function.” The current operating definition of this phrase was supplied by Taylor, joined by Justices Maura Corrigan, Robert Young and Stephen Markman, in Kreiner v. Fischer. Justice Michael Cavanagh dissented, joined by Justices Elizabeth Weaver and Marilyn Kelly.

With Hathaway now on the court, a judicial revisiting of the issue is likely. Also likely is a less strident formulation of what it means to have a “serious impairment of body function.”

With the change in the MSC’s makeup, the Chamber is going to have a much more difficult time getting a majority to embrace it’s point of view on the no-fault act.

That’s why it’s more important than ever, as far as the Chamber is concerned, to have a handle on things in the Legislature, which is where the Chamber would seek a remedy for any judicial tinkering with the no-fault act.

A complete list of the Chamber’s legislative priorities is available here.

8.22.08: What they’re saying …

“This is a travesty of justice.”
– Dianne Byrum, frontwoman for Reform Michigan Government Now!, quoted in The Detroit News.
Well, how else would you expect her to respond to the Michigan Court of Appeals decision that halted the RMGN’s ballot proposal dead in its tracks? The RMGN folks promise endless appeals, starting today with the Michigan Supreme Court.

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“If they wanted to do this legally, they could have come up with eight different proposed amendments. [Michigan Democratic Party Chair] Mark Brewer held a constitutional convention in his basement instead and came up with this.”
– Robert LaBrant, Michigan Chamber of Commerce vice president and chief architect of the opposition to RMGN’s proposal, quoted in The Detroit Free Press.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled there is a great difference between amending the Michigan Constitution, which can be accomplished at the polls, and wholesale revisions, which require convening a constitutional convention. The COA said the RMGN proposal was most definitely a revision. The proposal would alter four articles of the Michigan Constitution by modifying 24 existing sections and adding four new ones. According to the common wisdom, Brewer had a big hand in drafting the proposal.

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“I think it’s been so male-dominated that it’s going to take years to make up that difference.”
– Danielle Hall, career and professional development coordinator for Cooley Law School, quoted in The Oakland Press.
Hall was reacting to the statewide statistic that 27 percent of the sitting judges are women. In Oakland County, the percentage could jump to more than 50 percent on the circuit court bench, depending on the outcome of two judicial contests in November. Nine of 19 circuit judges are women. Two male judges are retiring. In the August primary, the two female candidates looking to fill the openings outpolled their nearest competitors by a 2-1 margin.

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“You might as well pull the trigger and shoot me now.”
– Nate Craft, former hit man, quoted in The Detroit News.
More than 20 years ago, Craft bargained down a first-degree murder charge and life sentence in exchange for his testimony against his former employer, the Best Friends drug gang. He was released from federal prison this spring but was denied participation in the witness protection program. Worst yet, says Craft, the terms of his probation require him to live in Michigan for the next two years. He spends his days peering out his windows and looking over his shoulder.