law

Commentary
10:33 am
Fri June 15, 2012

Commentary: Legislators, behaving badly?

You couldn’t say yesterday was a slow news day. We learned that Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, would join Governor Rick Snyder today to announce the new bridge over the Detroit River.

The Michigan House of Representatives voted to slash the state income tax over the next six years, without, however, explaining how the state is expected to pay for the services it needs.

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Law
8:03 am
Thu June 14, 2012

Michigan Finally Eyeing Changes To Lawyers For Poor

Edward Carter's conviction for a 1974 crime was vacated by a judge after it was shown that Carter was innocent — and after he had spent 35 years in Michigan prisons.
Brakkton Booker NPR

Originally published on Fri June 15, 2012 12:05 pm

Lawyers on all sides agree the system enshrined nearly 50 years ago that gives all defendants the right to a lawyer is not working. The Justice Department calls it a crisis — such a big problem that it's been doling out grants to improve how its adversaries perform in criminal cases.

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Law
2:20 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Panel: Oust Inkster judge for misusing court money

City of Inkster

INKSTER, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission says a Detroit-area judge should lose her job and repay $81,000 for putting public money to personal and other improper uses.

The commission announced its recommendation Tuesday after hearings on the conduct of Inkster District Judge Sylvia James.

Investigators say James misspent at least $100,000, either for her personal use or for community projects unrelated to the court.

The commission has sent its findings to the Michigan Supreme Court, which holds oral arguments on the case July 25 in Lansing.

James has denied any wrongdoing, and her lawyer Sharon McPhail says James is a "hardworking judge."

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Law
3:52 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

Released from prison after 26 years, man cleared of charges he killed family

Arson cases are being reexamined after the science behind some convictions has been questioned.
Marcus Obal creative commons

Some forensic science often used in police investigations is being called into question.

PBS' Frontline did an excellent series calling out the questionable science behind many arson cases.

In "Death by Fire" they showed how testimony from so-called fire experts led to the convictions of people for arson.

In one case, a potentially innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was put to death in Texas based on questionable fire evidence.

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it's the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham -- convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children -- that's now at the center of the national debate.

Today, we hear the story of David Lee Gavitt from the Detroit Free Press. Gavitt, from Ionia, was convicted in 1986 of first-degree felony murder for the deaths of his wife and two young daughters in a house fire. He was sentenced to life in prison.

His conviction was overturned and he was released yesterday after spending 26 years in prison.

His first stop, the grave sites of his wife and daughters.

"It was a very emotional scene," said David Moran, a law professor and co-founder of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, which fought for the release of 54-year-old David Lee Gavitt. Moran said 15-20 of Gavitt's family members also arrived to welcome him home.

Since Gavitt's conviction in 1986, fire science has advanced significantly. A fire science expert, John Lentini, reviewed some of the evidence in Gavitt's case for the Innocence Clinic:

He told the clinic that the burn patterns that had caused investigators to suspect arson weren't caused by an accelerant, like gasoline, but by flashover -- a then-misunderstood phenomenon in which a closed room fills with toxic gases and bursts into flames.

"In light of modern fire science, there is simply not one shred of credible evidence that the fire at the Gavitt residence was intentionally set," Lentini said in a 65-page affidavit the clinic presented last September to Judge Hoseth Kreeger.

As Frontline points out, there are several arson cases around the country being reviewed. And the case of Cameron Todd Willingham has caused experts to re-examine old assumptions:

These include assumptions about fire patterns on floors and v-shaped marks on walls, the identifying characteristics of an accelerant, and what happens to glass windows during a blaze. Gerald Hurst, who wrote a report discrediting the evidence used against Willingham in a last-minute death row appeal, declared: “One might well wonder how anyone could make so many critical errors in interpreting the evidence.”

Politics
3:18 pm
Sat March 31, 2012

3 unpaid parking tickets could stop drivers

Flickr user alicegop

Here's another reason to pay your parking tickets: Your driver's license could be blocked.

A Michigan law kicking in on May 16 says three unpaid parking tickets can prevent renewal of a license. The current threshold is six.

Local governments notify the secretary of state when someone has too many unpaid parking tickets, although some communities are more aggressive than others. Birmingham in suburban Detroit turns unpaid tickets over to a collection agency.

Michigan Supreme Court
1:01 am
Wed January 11, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court to weigh into 911 lawsuit

(LegalJuice.com)

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments today over  whether a wrongful death lawsuit can proceed against a 911 operator.    

In 2006, a 5-year-old boy in Detroit called 911 seeking help for his mother who was unconscious. The first 911 operator who received the boy’s call didn’t believe him and told the boy to stop ‘playing on the phone’.    The operator told the boy she would send a police officer to the house, but she did not.    

A few hours later a second 911 operator accused the boy of playing a prank. The second 911 operator did send a police officer to the home. When the officer arrived, he discovered the boy’s mother dead on the floor.

The family sued claiming wrongful death and emotional distress.   

The 911 operators contended they are protected by laws which give 'immunity' to local governments. But lower state courts disagreed. The Court of Appeals found the 911 operators engaged in "extreme and and outrageous conduct" and so were not entitled to dismissal of the lawsuit.   

Earlier this week, a settlement was approved between one of the 911 operators and the family. An attorney described the settlement as ‘nominal’.

Education
5:10 pm
Mon December 19, 2011

Cooley Law School to open immigrant rights clinic in Ann Arbor

user mconnors morgueFile

Low-income immigrants in the Washtenaw County area will soon be able to get free legal help from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Ann Arbor campus.

Jason Eyster, an associate professor at Cooley Law School, will run the new immigrant rights clinic. He says they’ll be able to take up to six immigration cases at a time, dealing with a variety of issues:

"In the immigration area: individuals are seeking asylum, seeking withholding of removal,  seeking cancelation of removal, or seeking clarity on what their rights may or may not be," said Eyster.

Eyster says they’ll also help immigrants with other issues, like "foreclosure, landlord-tenant, custody issues, and that sort of thing."

The clinic doesn't open until next month, but Eyster says they're already booked.

Culture of Class
10:09 am
Tue November 22, 2011

Debtors pay... or stay in jail

Debtor's Prison

When you step into a Michigan courtroom, crime is supposed to be crime, regardless of social class. But whether you go home or go to jail  sometimes depends on whether you have money.

Let’s say you’re one of the many thousands of people in Michigan who’s unemployed. Or, you’re working in a job that doesn’t cover your bills. Like your rent or mortgage. Or, like child support.

And if you don’t have the money to pay those bills,  you might end up in court. Selesa Likine did. Her husband divorced her. He got custody of the kids.  She lost her home. Likine, who had worked as a realtor, was ordered to pay $1,100 a month in child support. She couldn’t pay it  and the court was not allowed to hear why. So she spent 43 days in the Oakland County Jail.

“The jury in the case never heard that during the period when she wasn’t paying the child support, she was institutionalized with schizo-affective disorder, was declared totally disabled by the Social Security Administration, lost her realtors’ license, was unable to work, and was subsisting on disability income,” says David Moran, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

Moran took over Likine’s Case. In October, Moran and the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Michigan Supreme Court for a new trial. They say what happened to Likine is no different than a debtor’s prison – sort of like Dickensian days, when poor people who owed money were thrown into jail.

Likine, who’s in her 40s, lives with her mother now. She takes medicine for her mental illness and says she's stable. But she’s not optimistic about her future. She doesn’t think anyone will want to hire her because she’s a felon.

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politics
11:18 am
Fri November 11, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court won't intervene in $100M deal with Prisoners

user: abay flickr.com

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to intervene in a dispute over a $100 million settlement with former and current female prisoners who claimed they were sexually harassed behind bars Oakland County wants the women's names so victims of their crimes can also be paid. While that dispute is pending, the county wants the state to suspend payments.

Politics
6:11 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Michigan's public defense system under review

Brian Turner Flickr

A state commission has begun work to ensure that everyone who is accused of a crime in Michigan gets an adequate legal defense.

Michigan allows every county to handle its own public defender system.

The system is frequently cited as one of the worst in the country.

That’s because some counties do a good job of ensuring that even people who cannot pay get a good lawyer. Other counties are more haphazard.

There are also no training standards for public defenders.

Retired Judge James Fischer chairs the commission.

“I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue that there are no problems with the system, that it’s working perfectly fine for everyone. I’m pretty certain that’s not going to be anyone’s position," said Fischer.

The commission’s first step was to approve a set of questions for every county to answer on how it assigns and pays public defenders.

One of the common complaints is that public defenders must take on too many cases to earn a living.

Peter Cunningham is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice.

We need to come up with an improved system for public defense in Michigan. There needs to be more accountability – a statewide structure for holding counties accountable for how public defense is delivered, if not a statewide system,” said Cunningham.

Governor Rick Snyder gave the commission until July of next year to come up with a set of recommendations – including a way to pay for a better public defender system.

Politics
9:24 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

Michigan State Supreme Court in favor of eliminating judges

Michigan Hall of Justice.
Michigan Supreme Court

Michigan’s top judicial official said the state has too many judges, and some of their positions should be eliminated. Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young has presented a plan to do that to the state House Judiciary Committee.

Chief Justice Young said a Supreme Court study found there are courts with workloads that no longer justify the number of judges they have. The report recommends eliminating 45 positions over several years.

“Some judges don’t agree with the proposed cuts. But, most have accepted the reality that courts are too expensive and have too many judges. It may not be something all members of the judiciary relish, but I think most of us recognize it’s necessary," said Young.

 Young said Michigan taxpayers are paying more than they should be. He said he wants to make cuts in ways that won’t compromise the integrity of the judicial system and assurances that people are getting fair trials.

State Representative John Walsh (R-Livonia) chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He said the Legislature appears ready to act on the recommendations, even though eliminating local elected positions can be politically difficult.

 "I would say in general this is an unprecedented accomplishment to have this degree of support. We have all seven justices of the Supreme Court who have unanimously endorsed this, all of the judicial associations and the state bar," said Walsh.

Walsh said the committee expects to hold four more hearings on the topic. He expects a vote by the committee around Thanksgiving.

- Chelsea Hagger - Michigan Public Radio Network

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Law
5:29 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court to hear challenge to sex offender's plea deal

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a convicted child molester should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because he did not know it would subject him to a lifetime of electronic monitoring.

The state Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether David M. Cole entered a “knowing, intelligent, and understanding” plea.

Cole plead “no contest,” which is essentially a guilty plea, to two counts of having sexual contact with a child younger than 13 when he was in his late 20s. His plea deal included an agreement that he would eligible for release from prison within five years.

But Cole says that he was never told his conviction on second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges requires that he wear an electronic monitoring device for the rest of his life.

Cole was denied permission to withdraw his plea to try and make a new deal.

Prosecutors say their deal was only on prison time, everything else was not part of the negotiation.

Commentary
1:52 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Banning Abortion

Yesterday, after a long series of what were described as impassioned floor speeches, the Michigan Legislature banned a medical procedure called “partial-birth abortion.”

Thinking about this is not for the faint of heart. The procedure, known medically as “dilation and extraction”  involves a technique where a fetus is killed after it partly emerges from the vagina.

A very small percentage of abortions have ever been performed this way -- less than a fifth of one percent. Some doctors have said this procedure sometimes makes sense for the safety of the mother.

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Commentary
10:22 am
Thu August 18, 2011

Should there be fewer judges in Michigan?

Does Michigan need fewer judges? The chief justice of the state supreme court thinks so, and so does the governor.

Yesterday, a new study by the state court administrative office recommended eliminating forty-five of the almost six hundred trial judges in Michigan, and also getting rid of four appeals court judges.

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Legal
10:57 am
Fri July 29, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court rules on sexual assault case

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on a sexual assault case today.
Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who was raped by a jail guard while she was being detained is not entitled to file a civil rights and sexual harassment lawsuit against the county. The court said the local government is not responsible for the behavior of a public worker who acted outside the scope of his employment. The court's Republican majority split with Democratic justices, who say the decision undermines previous rulings that protect victims of discrimination.

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Politics
4:30 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Federal appeals court affirms Michigan ruling on Obama health care law

Joe Gratz Flickr

A case which was brought in part by Michigan residents against President Obama's health care legislation received a major defeat today as a federal appeals court ruled its mandate rules as constitutional.

From ABC News:

In a victory for the Obama administration, a federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The decision marks the first time an appellate court has weighed in on the issue and also the first time a judge, appointed by a Republican president, has voted to uphold the law.

The case stems from a challenge from the Thomas More Center, a public interest law firm, and four Michigan residents who claimed that the individual mandate -- the portion of the law that requires individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty-- is unconstitutional.

In his opinion Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause because the provision "regulates economic activity" with a "substantial" effect on interstate commerce.

"In addition, " he wrote, "Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in heath care and health insurance."

Martin, who was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, was joined in the decision by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. Before today every other judge who had voted to uphold the law was nominated by a Democratic president and those who voted against it were nominated by a Republican president.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Commentary
1:47 pm
Thu June 9, 2011

Beyond the Law?

Let’s say that I seized a portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park for my own uses. I erected a fence, and put up phony signs saying “No Trespassing Due to Homeland Security.”

Later, I ignored court orders to tear it down, and said that I could do this because I was sort of an agent of the federal government, or as I put it, a “federal instrumentality.”

Then, when a federal judge ruled that I was nothing of the kind, and ordered me to stop claiming to be, quote, “any type pf arm, appendage, or agent of the federal government,“ I ignored him.

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Politics
4:49 pm
Wed June 8, 2011

Governor Snyder announces free legal help for start-up businesses

User Sabine01 Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has unveiled a new program with a law firm that will offer free legal services for about 60 start-up companies a year.

The MiSpringboard program with Varnum law firm will last five years.

Snyder says he would be open to creating similar programs with other law firms that are willing to offer free services for start-ups. 

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State Legislature
10:26 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Lawmakers move to shift health care costs

Inside the state Capitol, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Proposals to require public employees in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance costs have advanced in the state Legislature, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A Republican-led Senate committee approved the measures Wednesday on party-line votes. Republican Sen. Mark Jansen of Kent County's Gaines Township says the measures could come up for votes on the Senate floor later this month.

The legislation would affect employees with the state, local governments, public school districts, public universities and other public employers.

Republicans say the measures are needed to help public employers control costs. Democrats say health care costs should be bargained in contracts.

Local units of government could exempt themselves from the act by a two-thirds vote of its governing body.

 The legislation is Senate Bill 7 and Senate Joint Resolution C.

State Law
6:27 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Snyder set to sign bill to repeal item pricing law

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Governor Rick Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill today that will repeal the state law that requires price tags on most retail items.

The Governor first proposed the repeal of the law  in his State of the State address in January. The Associated Press reports:

Supporters of repeal say technological improvements make pricing every item unnecessary and note prices must still be clearly posted. Massachusetts is the only state with a law similar to Michigan's. It applies only to food retailers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says grocery jobs will be lost when the new law takes effect in September, but some retail groups say workers are likely to be given other tasks.

Snyder is scheduled to sign the bill this afternoon at 2 p.m. in Lansing.

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