In their opinions

“[I]f there ever was an area in which … disinfectant is the most needed, it is in the conducting of elections.”

Court of Appeals Judge William C. Whitbeck, writing for the majority in Practical Political Consulting v. Land.

“[M]any voters may wish to avoid the perceived annoyance and hassle of receiving large amounts of junk mail and solicitations that would result from the disclosure of their particular political convictions.”

Court of Appeals Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly, dissenting.

Whitbeck and Kelly were discussing the competing rationales for and against Freedom of Information Act disclosure of voters’ names, addresses and the political parties’ ballot the voters requested in the 2008 presidential primary.

Joined by Judge Stephen L. Borrello, Whitbeck prevailed on his view that disclosure was necessary to make sure that election officials had complied with a now-unconstitutional statute.

The law required the Secretary of State and other election officials to collect voter information in the 2008 primary and supply it exclusively to the state’s two major political parties.

A political consulting company made a FOIA request for the same information and prevailed in last week’s split-panel decision.

***
“[A] defendant’s perjury at trial is not exceptional. If it were, ‘a departure might be warranted every time a defendant testified and was found guilty.'”

Court of Appeals Judges Joel P. Hoekstra, Cynthia Diana Stephens and Michael J. Kelly, in the unpublished per curiam decision of People v. Baker, quoting People v. Kahley, 277 Mich. App. 182 (2007).

The panel explained that a defendant’s admitted perjury is not reason enough to exceed the sentencing guidelines.

However, in this case, the trial court found that the defendant was a pedophile. The Baker panel said that was a great reason to ignore the guideline’s 9- to 15-year recommendation instead impose a 25- to 75-year sentence.

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A novel project

It has absolutely nothing to do with the law or with Michigan’s legal profession, but I can’t resist reporting on someone who is living the dream.

That someone is Court of Appeals Judge William C. Whitbeck, who has accomplished what more than a few reporters (and lawyers, for that matter) dream of – he wrote a novel.

And he says it’s good.

The book, “To Account for Murder,” will be published in November by The Permanent Press in New York. The story is based, though Whitbeck admits loosely, on the true story of the 1945 murder of then-Sen. Warren Hooper. His murder was never solved, but it is believed that he was killed by members of the Purple Gang to keep him from testifying to a grand jury investigating government corruption.

“I’ve always thought I had a book in me,” said Whitbeck, who before going to law school went to journalism school in the 1960s and interned at the Chicago Tribune. “Then I stumbled across this fascinating tale.”

In 1990, he officially started putting words to paper, trying to tell the story about what would happen if a senator was killed just as he began talking to a grand jury. Whitbeck put the novel aside several times when his day job took up most of his time.

But a few summers ago, he decided it was time to finish the book. His wife completely took over managing their household affairs, and gave him the time at night and on weekends to explore the world of his protagonist Charles Cahill, a soldier wounded in battle at Pointe du Hoc, a cliff overlooking the beaches at Normandy, and who after his return to the states struggles with alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder.

The characters in his novel are fictional, mostly because Whitbeck said he didn’t want to be “trapped by what happened in real life, even though what really happened was fascinating. It’s a story about corruption in Lansing, and the prisons, and Republican politics.”

If there are any characters based on real people, he said one is similar to his own grandfather, who — Whitbeck paused before he finished his sentence, “Was a bootlegger. It’s pretty certain that he had been running hooch.”

“It’s a good yarn, a good story. On one level it’s about a loss. Charles Cahill lost his arm (in battle). He lost his father, and he’s about to lose the woman he loves,” Whitbeck said. “On another level, it’s about appearances, which can be deceiving. What looks honest may not be, and what looks terrible may be good.”
 
The book, Whitbeck said, went through six drafts, and yesterday as he was awaiting editor’s remarks, he said he fully expects it will undergo another substantial revision.

“That’s what I wasn’t really expecting,” he said. “When I finally finished the book I thought I was done. But I learned pretty quickly that you can’t just go out and find a publisher. First you need an agent.”

So Whitbeck fired off about 100 query letters to agents, and received five replies. He negotiated an agreement with one, who later told him that the mid-sized agency he works for receives 200 query letters per week.

Then, there’s the task of finding a publisher, which is no small task; Whitbeck said that he was told the Permanent Press only accepts submissions from five or six unpublished writers per year.

“Then, I have to sell the damn thing,” Whitbeck said. “Unless you’re a big author, when it comes to money for publicity or book tours, you’re on your own.”

Whitbeck has plans regarding his day job — at age 69 he is running for another term on the bench. But he will also market the first run of his book throughout Michigan. And then he’ll take the book tour into the rest of the Midwest, starting with Chicago, where he still has friends in the news world.

And somewhere in the mix, he admits, “I’ve got another book in the works, which I would describe as a legal thriller. I’m about 20,000 or 30,000 words into that. … I’m not sure where it’s going, but the bodies have started to pile up.”