Law

Stories regarding the legal system

The much anticipated public corruption trial against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, former Detroit Sewer and Water chief Victor Mercado, and contractor Bobby Ferguson is expected to start next month. Jury selection is underway, and today a judge refused to provide Kilpatrick with a new lawyer, someone Kilpatrick says he loves, but does not trust.

user hanabi / MorgueFile.com

A state House panel will look at how Michigan’s new fireworks law is working, and could recommend changes.

There have been complaints about loud explosions late into the night since the law was passed earlier this year.

State Representative Harold Haugh wrote the law, which allows retailers who buy a license to sell more-powerful fireworks. It also preempts any local fireworks bans on the day before, the day of, and the day after 10 national holidays.

Haugh says the law is a success, and it does not stop local governments from enforcing noise ordinances.

user BotMultichill / Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan Court of Appeals says women who were sexually abused in state prisons must pay the victim restitution and child support they owe before collecting settlement money from their class-action suit.

A three-judge appeals court panel ruled today that an order protecting the names of the women who sued should remain in effect.

But the court also says that where there's a conflict between protecting the women's identities and making sure that they pay victim restitution and child support, the courts must make sure the debts get paid.

Tyler Nickerson / Decriminalize GR

A group that’s trying to make marijuana possession in the City of Grand Rapids only a civil infraction turned in more than enough signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot.

The group modeled the proposed changes to Grand Rapids’ city charter after Ann Arbor’s. In Ann Arbor, fines for marijuana possession start at just $25 and are not more $100.

Tyler Nickerson is with the group known as Decriminalize GR. It collected more than 10,000 signatures during the petition drive.

http://www.aclumich.org/michiganfamilies / ACLU

Five gay and lesbian couples head to federal court in Detroit on Tuesday. They're fighting to win back health coverage for domestic partners of public employees.

One of the couples is Peter Ways and his partner, Joe Breakey. Peter works for the Ann Arbor school district, which like other local public employers, isn't allowed to cover the domestic partners of their staff.

That's thanks to a recent state law. Proponents say the law could save the state several million dollars each year. But the ACLU says it's unconstitutional. 

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Dave Hogg / Wikimedia Commons

A judge says the names and hometowns of jurors will only be known by lawyers in the upcoming corruption trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds says she's concerned about the privacy of jurors. At a hearing today, she said jurors will be identified in court by a number in place of their names to everyone except the lawyers.

Scott Kincaid, Flint City Council President
City of Flint / CityOfFlint.com

Flint's City Council President opposes the appointment of a new emergency manager for his city.

U.S. Marshall Service

DETROIT (AP) - Prosecutors are urging a judge to send the leader of a southern Michigan militia to prison for possessing a machine gun and other illegal weapons.

David Stone is returning to Detroit federal court next week. In March, he and other members of the Hutaree were cleared of conspiring to rebel against the government, but Stone pleaded guilty to a gun crime.

Subterranean / Wikimedia Commons

Update Aug. 3 4:00 p.m.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon said at a press conference following the Supreme Court ruling, that putting the Emergency Manager referendum on the ballot means the state will have to revert to previous legislation about Emergency Financial Managers.

Dillon says the current Emergency Managers running cities in Michigan will all be re-appointed except for Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown.

Brown has served as Mayor of Flint within the last five years, and is not eligible to be an Emergency Manager under the old law.

Dillon says the state will name a new Emergency Manager for Flint.

Aug. 3 1:30 p.m.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered the referendum on the state’s emergency manager law onto the November ballot.

A divided court ruled the ballot campaign’s petitions met the letter of the law, that the type on a critical portion of the petition was, in fact, 14 points, which is what the law requires.

The Supreme Court decision requires a state elections board to put the challenge to the emergency manager law on the November ballot.

At that point, the emergency manager law is suspended, but what happens next is not certain. In a statement today, Gov. Rick Snyder said:

While I fully support the right of all citizens to express their views, suspension of the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act may adversely affect Michigan communities and school districts mired in financial emergencies. It promises to make eventual solutions to those emergencies more painful.

One of the act’s primary goals is to identify financial emergencies before they become full-blown crises. Suspending the law limits the state’s ability to offer early intervention and assistance, and eliminates important tools that emergency managers need to address financial emergencies as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This is critical given the state’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens, regardless of the city in which they live or the school district they attend.

Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette say the old emergency manager law is resurrected -- the seven emergency managers currently serving will continue, but with diminished authority.

The referendum drive says otherwise – that there is no emergency manager law, and the emergency managers are out of a job.

It could take another court fight – or extraordinary action by the Legislature to settle the question.

Others have also released statements on the ruling:

  • American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker:

The Michigan Supreme Court has listened to reason and the hundreds of thousands of citizens who signed petitions calling for the repeal of PA4. Michigan voters know that the Legislature granted extreme powers to unelected Emergency Managers in this bill, and deserve the right to vote on this issue in November.

  • Detroit Mayor Dave Bing:

We respect the Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion, protecting the constitutional right of citizens to use the petition process. However, the Financial Stability Agreement (FSA) remains in effect and is still a critical tool to help fiscally stabilize the city...

The Financial Advisory Board will also remain in tact as will its oversight function to make sure the City is moving forward in restructuring. The court’s decision is not expected to affect the bond issue we need to maintain the city’s cash flow, and the city must complete the bond issue to fund city operations. The bottom line is the City’s fiscal challenges remain, and Public Act 4 was one tool to help us.  Without P.A.4, we will continue to execute our fiscal restructuring plan.

  • Flint Mayor Dayne Walling:

The legal decision does not change anything about the City of Flint's finances, however. It is my hope that there can be cooperation at all levels in the public and private sectors to address the deep rooted challenges we face in Michigan's communities. This is a time when we need to stop fighting over control and instead work together in equal cooperation.

A Macomb County man has the right to display a Nativity scene in a public road median. That’s according to a federal appeals court ruling. It reverses a Detroit judge’s decision.

John Satawa's family has been displaying a crèche in this busy highway median every Christmas for decades. But the county asked him to take it down when it got complaints from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  Satawa sued, and now the federal appeals court is siding with him.

Michigan Supreme Court / courts.michigan.gov

Tuesday night, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that if a parent can prove they are unable to pay child support, they cannot be charged with a felony for the nonsupport.

The catch is, proving an inability to pay is quite difficult. Defendants must prove that they have sold off assets and exhausted their resources to be protected under the decision.

The ruling revolved around three Michigan cases in which parents argued they were unable to pay child support. The parents charged with nonsupport said they were denied their constitutional right to due process when circuit courts refused to consider evidence of their inability to pay.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Bill Schuette / Facebook.com

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings.

Schuette says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.

Randy Wood is a spokesman for the attorney general. He says Schuette believes re-sentencing hearings would be a mistake.

Johnny Jenkins / Affirmations

Yesterday, Affirmations Lesbian/Gay Community Center in Ferndale began what they call a "rolling" hunger strike that will last until the general election in November.

Organizers say the 100-day event protests the "extreme anti-equality environment in Michigan" of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender population.

The hunger strike will be comprised of 24-hour shifts in which volunteers will refrain from eating or drinking anything but water. The strikers will be on display inside the front windows of the Affirmations building on 9 mile road.

user Jeffness / Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a Michigan State University ordinance is unconstitutional today.

Back in 2008, MSU law student Jared Rapp received a parking ticket on campus. Rapp reportedly yelled at the parking attendant, took his photo and demanded his name. 

Michigan Senate Republicans

The state Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that would require clinics and doctor’s offices where abortions are performed to be licensed and inspected. Critics of the bill say its real purpose is to put abortion providers out of business.

Rick Jones chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“The purpose is to make sure that clinics are licensed and safe. Certainly, a state that licenses junkyards, tattoo parlors, and used car lots would want to license abortion clinics,” he said.

Dario Corsi / Redhead Design Studio

It’s now up to the state Supreme Court to decide whether the referendum to challenge Michigan’s emergency manager law will appear on the November ballot. The court spent 90 minutes today listening to arguments on whether a dispute over type size is enough to keep the question off the ballot.
    
John Pirich is the attorney for Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. The business-backed group is trying to knock the referendum off the ballot. Pirich says it’s not enough to trust that a computer program used by petition printers is accurately measuring type size.  

“Everyone knows what a computer can do. I can make letters get scrunched. I can make letters get elongated. They say 12-, 14-, or six-point font, whatever it might say, but that can be manipulated," he said.

Supporters of the referendum say the petitions were correctly printed in the proper font size. They also say the will of more than 200,000 petition signers should not be ignored.

Today, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments about the validity of Stand Up for Democracy's petition challenging the state's emergency manager law. The high court will rule on the legality of the petition's font size. So what's all the fuss about? Check out this Michigan Radio infographic breaking down the issue.

Flagstar Bank branch in Ann Arbor
Dwight Burdette / Wikimedia Commons

Some current and former employees will get another chance to pursue a lawsuit against Flagstar Bank over company stock in their retirement accounts.

A federal appeals court has reinstated the case in Detroit federal court. The Troy-based bank is blamed for offering Flagstar stock to employees at a time when the bank was in perilous shape.

Flagstar's stock price lately has been under a dollar, compared with nearly $15 in 2007. The court says the lawsuit raises a "plausible claim" that Flagstar breached its fiduciary duty to employees during that time.

The bank has said workers made their own investment decisions.

Flagstar recently announced its first profitable quarter since 2008. It has 111 branches in Michigan.

A news investigation found two natural gas companies might have colluded when bidding on drilling rights in Michigan. Reuters obtained e-mails exchanged between officials from Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Encana Corp. The paper says the e-mails show "that top executives of the two rivals plotted in 2010 to avoid bidding against each other in a state auction and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners." State lawmakers are pushing for resolution with an investigation.

Flickr user Miss Lauralee

A new program in Detroit is taking a creative approach to helping former inmates improve their lives. That approach involves pairing two groups of people who often don't trust one another: former inmates and police officers.

Jessica Taylor came up with the idea for the mentorship program called New Beginnings. She’s Executive Director of Chance for Life, a non-profit that helps inmates transition back into the community after they've been released.

As part of the mentorship program, officers drive the men to counseling appointments and recovery programs. They help the men obtain birth certificates and social security cards. The pairs also take part in social activities, like going to ball games.

At first, Taylor says it was a tough sell to both groups. But after a few months of spending time together, she says the men consider each other friends, and some even consider one another family.

Taylor says if you want to make communities safer, you have to engage the people who make them unsafe, and you have to involve the police. She hopes to expand the program in the near future.

User rottenhombre / youtube.com

Update 12:53 p.m.

DETROIT (AP) -Federal prosecutors say they have a "staggering amount of evidence" to convict dozens of members of a Detroit-area motorcycle gang, who are accused of a violent criminal enterprise.

The government says more than dozen current or former members of the Devils Diciples are cooperating with the FBI and ready to testify at trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin made the disclosure this week in a court filing that seeks to keep the group's president in custody while awaiting trial.

Mohsin says Jeff "Fat Dog" Smith is responsible for an "interstate ... rampage of drugs, violence" and other crimes. He faces a detention hearing Tuesday in Detroit federal court. A message seeking comment was left for his attorney today.

July 14, 4:10 p.m.

Forty-one members and associates of a Michigan based motorcycle club face a wide-ranging federal indictment.

The allegations in the indictment announced today include murder, illegal gambling and drug trafficking.

Current Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates is in the spotlight after the shooting that took place this morning. Oates was Chief of Police and Safety Services Administrator for the City of Ann Arbor for four years before he left for his job in Aurora in 2005. Prior to that, Oates served in the New York Police Department for 21 years.

There is some question on the reach of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office says it may only apply going forward and not to the 366 juvenile lifers currently serving in Michigan prisons.

Dawn Van Hoek directs the State Appellate Defender Office, which represents some of the juvenile lifers. She disagrees and said every juvenile sentenced to life without parole should get a new hearing.

“I think they’ve already signaled, the Supreme Court has, and, you know, you have to wonder why even bother if you’re not going to apply it to the hundreds of people who were affected nationwide by these unconstitutional laws,” said Van Hoek.

That would also require the state to track down the families of murder victims who have a right under Michigan law to testify at sentencing hearings.

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) - A Michigan prosecutor says investigators have DNA evidence linking the deaths of two of four children killed during a 13-month period in the 1970s.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said Tuesday that DNA tests fond hairs found during the investigation of the deaths of 11-year-old Timothy King and 12-year-old Mark Stebbins came from the same person. They're seeking tips from the public in the case.

Flint, Mich.
Flint Michigan / Facebook.com

A judge in Flint has given the Michigan Department of Human Services until Aug. 10 to process 5,000 or more remaining applications for cash assistance from people whose benefits were ended because of a five-year federal limit.

Genesee County Circuit Judge Geoffrey Neithercut imposed the deadline today during a hearing on a complaint from the Center for Civil Justice.  The complaint accused the Michigan DHS of intentionally processing the assistance applications slowly while it waited for decisions from the Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court.

On June 27, the state Court of Appeals ruled that Michigan can end benefits under a five-year federal limit, even if recipients still might qualify for cash under state law.

Michigan has a four-year limit, but the state stops the clock when someone with a disability can't work or when people care for a disabled spouse or child.

The state says following the stricter federal cap could save $70 million a year.

In a press release sent out today, DHS Director Maura Corrigan said the judge's ruled window for processing applications is reasonable. She said,

We are and have been committed to complying with this court’s orders. The completion date of August 10th set forth by the court today is well within our internal timeline already in place.

MLive.com reports that the groups will return to court Aug. 20 if DHS fails to process all of the cases by the deadline.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio News

US Justice Department

DETROIT (AP) - Prosecutors agree that a man who was a member of a southern Michigan militia shouldn't be sent to prison when he returns to court for his sentence next month.

Michigan Court of Appeals
Mike Russell / Wikimedia Commons

The state Court of Appeals says a county concealed gun board did not exceed its authority when it denied a permit based on a man’s juvenile crime record.

Jameel Stephens says the Wayne County Concealed Weapons Board should not have rejected his request for a concealed pistol permit, because he was found guilty as a juvenile of breaking and entering.
    
Stephens argued that juvenile proceedings are supposed to be shielded from that sort of decision-making. He says they are also not, officially, criminal convictions.
    
Michigan is what’s called a “shall-issue” concealed gun state. That means gun boards must approve permit requests unless there is a clear reason to deny a person.
    
The Court of Appeals says state law clearly allows gun boards to deny concealed pistol permits to people found guilty of a juvenile offense – if that offense is a felony when an adult is charged. That would include breaking and entering.

Michigan Hall of Justice
User Xnatedawgx / Wikimedia Commons

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether a referendum on Michigan’s emergency manager law should appear on the November ballot.

The arguments will take place in two weeks. A business coalition that supports the emergency manager law is trying to keep the question off the ballot.

The group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility says a section of this petition was printed in a type size that was too small, and that makes it ineligible.

The group lost before the state Court of Appeals, which said a court precedent left no choice in the matter.

Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility wants that precedent reversed. And if it wins, that decision could affect other ballot campaigns that filed this year.
       

The ballot campaign Stand Up For Democracy says there was no error. But it says even if there were, a technicality should not keep a question off the ballot after 226,000 people signed petitions supporting it.

An Ingham county judge has denied Detroit's top lawyer's request that he revisit his dismissal of her lawsuit challenging the city’s consent agreement with the state.

Last month, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette dismissed Detroit Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon's lawsuit challenging the authority of the consent agreement. Crittendon says it violates the Detroit charter.

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

Mount Pleasant has joined the ranks of more than a dozen Michigan cities with anti-discrimination laws protecting gay, lesbian and transgender people.  Activists say it's a big step for a relatively conservative town.

The city is home to Central Michigan University, and supporters of the ordinance say it's the last big college town in the state to adopt such a law. 

Norma Bailey is with the Mount Pleasant Area Diversity group. She says the law was met with some pushback, especially from residents who wanted to ensure religious institutions would be exempted from the law.

"This process has worked beautifully to, in fact, take a conservative area and help people understand what we were talking about," she said. "This isn't about marriage. This isn't about bathrooms. This is about people having the right to have a job, housing and accommodations that are equitable with everyone else."

The city can fine violators up to $2,500.

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