law

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

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.

Banning Abortion

Sep 22, 2011

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.

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.

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.

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

Beyond the Law?

Jun 9, 2011

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.

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. 

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.

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.

A bill pending in the state legislature could speed up adoptions in Michigan. 

State law requires all adoptions be approved by only one person – the superintendent of the Michigan Children’s Institute.

That leads to delays of up to two months in getting an adoption finalized.

Maura Corrigan is Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services.

She says the superintendent should be able to choose people to act in his stead.

"We’ll be able to have the adoptions approved locally by one of his designees, instead of every local case going to Lansing and be looked at there," says Corrigan.

There are more than 4,000 children eligible for adoption in Michigan.

Scorpions and Centaurs / Flickr

Michigan has the strictest retail pricing law in the nation. But now the state is poised to repeal the law that requires individual price tags on everything from canned food to lumber.

Retailers have been trying to get rid of the law since it was passed 30 years ago to try to protect consumers from being overcharged in checkout lines.

Michigan’s item pricing law was enacted in the 1970s just as electronic scanners were becoming commonplace. No other state has a law this expansive. Massachusetts requires item pricing for groceries.

Consumers like this law, and it was once-considered untouchable. But now with a new Republican governor and emboldened GOP majorities in the Legislature, Michigan is on the verge of repealing it.

Retired construction supervisor John McKenzie isn’t happy about that. He says price tags ensure that he knows the cost of something before he buys it, and that he’s being charged the correct price in the checkout line.

McKenzie says he also double checks the price against his store receipt when he gets home:

“If you don’t have that price tag on there, how do you know what that item was priced at back at the store? I mean, we’ve all picked an item off the shelf and when we get up there the item rings up differently.”

Michigan’s pricing law allows consumers who find a mistake to collect a bounty of up to $5 per error.

Retailers also face fines for not putting price tags on items. Five years ago, Wal-Mart paid a record fine of $1.5 million here.

Big retailers say the law is expensive for stores and for shoppers – although no one can say how much consumers might save if the law is repealed.  Smaller stores say it fails to take their needs into account.

Musician Mike Daniels shows off a guitar on the showroom floor of Marshall Music.

Owner Dan Marshall says his store complies with the law – mostly. There are some things, small or thin items like woodwind reeds, guitar picks, and drumsticks, that it makes no sense to price individually:

“We’ve got an entire display of drumsticks and in each bin, the price is clearly marked, but on each individual stick, they’re not.”

Marshall says, in some cases, labels would cover up package information that customers care about:

“Truth be known, practicality trumps law in some cases, and we’re in violation of the item pricing. Not maliciously, simply because it’s so impractical and unnecessary."

Marshall’s not alone. In Michigan, the price tag law may be the most widely ignored law since the 55 mile per hour speed limit.

Retailers think they’ve made their sale to the state’s political leaders that’s it’s time to close the books on Michigan’s one-of-a-kind price tag law.

Ifmuth / Flickr

The state Senate is expected to vote this week on a proposal to give emergency financial managers more control when they take over the budgets of cities, townships or school districts.

State Senator Phil Pavlov says the purpose of the proposal is to help communities that are in financial trouble fix their problems before they have to be taken over by an emergency financial manager.

He says it sets warning signs so problems can be dealt with earlier. But he says if emergency managers do step in, they need to have total control of the situation.

“The emergency manager would be able to make some very difficult decisions, and we know that we have to have somebody with the power to do that under extreme situations."

Unions oppose the proposal because it would allow managers to throw out contracts.

Governor Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to approve the increased power for emergency financial managers during his State of the State speech.

Unpopular Stands

Mar 3, 2011

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively overturned a Michigan law -- and undoubtedly angered and outraged the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.

The nation’s highest court said that the obnoxious protests that members of the Westboro Baptist Church stage at military funerals are fully protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Chief Justice John Roberts decreed that our nation’s fundamental commitment to free speech requires full protection of, quote “even hurtful speech on public issues.”

Now if you need reminding, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group from Topeka, Kansas that mainly consists of the members of one large extended family. They believe homosexuality is evil and America deserves divine punishment for tolerating it.

Accordingly, they’ve been traveling the country picketing at military funerals, waving signs that say things like “God Hates America,” “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Somehow, they believe our war casualties are fitting punishment for tolerance.

Michigan passed a law five years ago that was squarely aimed at the Westboro group. It essentially prohibited any such conduct within five hundred feet of a funeral.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially makes it all but certain that the Michigan law will be struck down as unconstitutional, if prosecutors attempt to use it.  Now ever since the 1960s, conservatives have often complained that out-of-touch liberals on the nation‘s highest court were improperly distorting the Constitution.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals.

Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here.

At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

The pickets were not opposing the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but against gay rights.

The ACLU challenged Michigan’s law after a couple attending a family friend’s funeral was arrested for having anti-George W. Bush signs on their car.

Dan Korobkin, with the ACLU, says the new court ruling may be enough to tip the balance in their challenge to Michigan’s law:

“Laws that are created to stifle unpopular speech, which is what the law in Michigan was created to do, always end up backfiring and punishing innocent people.”

Korobkin says they hope to hear soon from the federal judge considering their challenge to the state law, "the federal judge who is overseeing that case has already indicated that it is probably unconstitutional, but he hasn’t taken the final step of striking it down," said Korobkin.

Bernt Rostad / creative commons

About a dozen law students from Detroit and Windsor will have a chance to work together on environmental legal issues.

The law schools at Wayne State University and the University of Windsor will team up this fall to create North America's first  transnational environmental law clinic.

GOP House Leader / Flickr

A federal judge in Mississippi tossed out a lawsuit aimed at challenging the health care reform law. The dismissal comes the same week a federal judge in Florida ruled that the whole law was unconstitutional.

Politico.com reports:

Ten individuals without health insurance argued that the law’s requirement to buy insurance violated their rights. One of the plaintiffs is Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. Judge Keith Starrett said the individuals didn’t prove they have proper standing to challenge the law because they didn’t prove the mandate would apply to them. The suit was thrown out on procedural grounds.

It's not the first time lawsuits challenging the health care law have been tossed. Politico writes, "about two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the health care reform law since it was passed in March. Thirteen have now been thrown out over procedural matters such as a right to bring the suit."

Keeping score

NPR's Health blog went to their "go-to overhaul scorekeeper" Julie Rover for a tally on how challenges to the health care law have fared in court. The bloggers on "Shots" wrote:

The judicial scorecard on the law has pretty much followed party lines. Two judges who found the law constitutional were appointed by Democrats. Two who found the requirement for most people to have health insurance unconstitutional were appointed by Republicans.

The several dismissals issued for the health care court challenges, like the one today, have not followed any party ties.

Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it is appropriate to allow children to testify in criminal cases behind screens that shield them from seeing defendants.

The court agreed today to take the case.

The U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers in court.

In the case going before the Michigan Supreme Court, an eight-year-old girl testified that her brother-in-law had repeatedly raped her over a period of years, and exposed her and her brother to pornography.

The jury did not believe the man’s defense that the girl made up the charges to break up his marriage.

The defendant says he was deprived of his right to confront the primary witness against him because she testified from behind a one-way screen.

The screen shielded her view of the defendant, although he could see her.

A therapist said that was the only way she could testify without risking serious emotional damage.

The defendant says the shield prejudiced the jury against him, and that the Constitution requires witnesses to look defendants in the eye when testifying against them.

Guns in Church

Jan 27, 2011

Newly elected State Senator Mike Green, who comes from beet-growing country in Michigan’s thumb, seems to be a good and decent man. He was a tool and die maker for General Motors for thirty years, and operated a family farm most of that time.

He’s had the same wife for forty-three years; raised five kids and has more than enough grandchildren for two baseball teams.

The senator also owns a business that would make Abraham Lincoln proud -- Green’s Log Rails and Custom Log Furniture. Like Honest Abe, he is a Republican, and lacks college education. But he is very enthusiastic about guns.

So much so, that he has introduced legislation to allow people with concealed weapons permits to take guns everywhere -- churches, synagogues, bars, Joe Louis Arena. He thinks banning guns anywhere is outrageous. “Why do you need to give your Constitutional right away when you go to some places?“ he asks.

There are a number of ways to answer that, but the easiest and simplest is that there is no Constitutional right to take a weapon anywhere. That’s not a left-wing anti-gun point of view.

Rich Evenhouse / Flickr

The Michigan State Bar wants to change the way the state's courts work.

A task force of judges and lawyers are recommending changes they say will save the state money.

The Judicial Crossroads Task Force suggests:

  • consolidating trial courts
  • giving business cases higher priority
  • and letting existing judges retire without replacing them

Michigan has 246 separate courts and 586 judges.

screen grab of YouTube video

This Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that may determine if police officers have an expectation of privacy when they are doing their jobs.

It all started with a video.

Detroit city police and members of former Mayor Dennis Archer’s staff wanted to prevent a sexually explicit video from being played at a Dr. Dre concert in July 2000.

A camera crew for the rapper videotaped police officers saying they would pull the plug on the concert.

Former police officer, and current Detroit City Council president pro-tem Gary Brown, is seen on the video saying "we're going to shut this show down."

Eventually, Dr Dre decided not to show the video police were concerned about.

But the video of the police officers making their threats was put onto a concert DVD.

Thanks to YouTube user "snoopfroggydogg," you can see the "Detroit Controversy" videos here (WARNING: they contain images and words not suitable for younger viewers):

Detroit city officials sued, claiming the DVD makers violated Michigan’s anti-eavesdropping law by putting the video on the DVD without their permission.

The city officials and police officers claim their privacy was invaded by being videotaped and the video being shown publicly.

Attorney Herschel Fink represents the DVD’s producers. He says police officers have no 'right to privacy when they’re doing their job:

"I think the very essence of law enforcement is transparency...and I think this case has implications for mainstream news gathering and not just private citizens who are videotaping police berating them which was the case here."

Lower courts have tended to side with the DVD producers.

justicebobyoung.com

Newly appointed Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young is calling for budget cuts in Michigan's judiciary, reports Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network.

Pluta reports that Chief Justice Young "says he will call for combining courts and cutting judges in areas where there are fewer people and fewer cases." Young said:

"The Legislature will either do something rational to reduce the size and cost of the judiciary, or it will do something irrational. I think it is most rational to reduce redundancy rather than to cut into the judiciary in ways that will disable it from fulfilling its constitutional duties."

Pluta says "a 2009 report by the State Court Administrator says the state could save $2 million by eliminating more than a dozen judgeships in metro Detroit and northern Michigan."

Congressman Fred Upton
Republican Conference / Flickr

Republican Congressman Fred Upton, who represents Michigan's 6th District, says his fellow GOP lawmakers will go after the new health care law piece by piece.  Upton made the comments yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

As The Associated Press reports:

That effort, says Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, will follow a vote to repeal the health care law outright. Such a vote could come early in the new year after the GOP takes control of the House. Upton is the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and he says that repealing the health care law is his top priority.

Upton says he hopes for a vote before President Obama gives this year's State of the Union address.

Ken30684/Flickr

Michigan's new liquor law that allows alcohol sales on Sunday mornings and Christmas Day starts this weekend for establishments that have bought the proper permits. But, some communities in the state say they plan to continue to ban alcohol sales during certain hours on Sunday.

As The Associated Press reports:

Flint, Muskegon Heights, Garden City, Sturgis, Charlotte and all of Oceana, Ogemaw and Mecosta counties are among the places opting to continue banning Sunday morning sales.

Local governments had until yesterday to let officials know if they wanted to continue to ban or limit the sales on Sunday mornings.

Marijuana plant
USFWS

Michigan's medical marijuana law is intended "to provide protections for the medical use of marihuana."

But a) it conflicts with federal law, and b) it does not provide details on how and where registered medical marijuana users can get their pot. Confusion reigns around these issues and court battles are heating up.

Some cities accept the state law and are regulating pot dispensaries through ordinances or zoning laws.

Others are refusing to accept the law and are passing ordinances that effectively ban medical marijuana.

Here we plan to keep a running tally of how cities across Michigan are reacting to the medical marijuana law. Let us know if you have more information that should be posted here!

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Associated Press reports "the Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4-3 order, has refused to throw out Sheri Schooley's lawsuit against Texas Roadhouse in suburban Detroit."

Schooley sued the restaurant after a mishap with a toilet paper dispenser.  Schooley said she was injured in the restroom at the Texas Roadhouse.

Current distribution of the Bighead Carp
USGS

Update December 3rd 5:13 pm:

Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says "as far as I know, no one thinks there are any Asian Carp in Lake Erie." He says Lake Erie is colored red in the USGS map above because two Bighead carp were found in commercial fishman's nets several years ago. They colored the entire Lake red based on these two incidents.

December 1st 5:27 pm:

Today is the last day that stores in Michigan can sell alcoholic energy drinks.  Last month, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission announced it would ban sales of the controversial drinks because of health risks.

The Associated Press reports:

The Food and Drug Administration is requiring major brands of caffeinated alcoholic drinks to be taken off store shelves nationally by mid-December because of similar concerns. The agency says the combination of caffeine and alcohol in the drinks can lead to a "wide-awake drunk" and alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults.

At least four states have banned the drinks. You can find a list of the banned-drinks here.

Eugene G. Wanger and boxes of documents from the Michigan Constitution
State of Michigan

Eugene G. Wanger was a 28 year-old attorney when he became a delegate for Michigan's Constitutional Convention in 1961. The republican was a strong opponent of the death penalty and authored the section in today's state constitution that bans the practice.

ACLU
Slightly North/Flickr

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Michigan for its law that allows people convicted as minors to be imprisoned for life with no chance of parole.

The ACLU says the law violates the U.S. Constitution because it is "cruel and unusual punishment."

In a press release, the ACLU says the lawsuit is:

...on behalf of nine Michigan citizens who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were minors. The lawsuit charges that a Michigan sentencing scheme that denies the now-adult plaintiffs an opportunity for parole and a fair hearing to demonstrate their growth, maturity and rehabilitation constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates their constitutional rights.

According to the release:

The U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences youth to life without parole, and Michigan incarcerates the second highest number of people serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were 17 years old or younger. Currently, there are 350 individuals serving such mandatory life sentences in Michigan. This includes more than 100 individuals who were sentenced to life without parole who were present or committed a felony when a homicide was committed by someone else.

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