michigan supreme court

The Michigan Supreme Court has seen a sudden rise in unanimous decisions during the 2015-2016 term.
Flickr user Joe Gratz / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The old spiritual “Kumbaya” is a song of congregation and harmony. And it’s for this reason that the Michigan Supreme Court has earned the tag “The Kumbaya Court” from court-watchers due to an increase in the number of cases decided unanimously.

Through the 2015-2016 term, 81% of arguments held before the court have been unanimous decisions. In the previous two terms, only a little more than 50% of cases were decided unanimously.

 

Why the sudden rise in unanimous decisions?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan police officers can never be criminally prosecuted for statements they are compelled to make during internal investigations — even if those statements turn out to be lies that amount to perjury or another crime.

That’s what the Michigan Supreme Court decided this week, in the case of three Detroit officers charged with obstructing justice.

MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT / COURT.MI.GOV

DETROIT – The Michigan Supreme Court has announced amendments to state rules aimed at keeping people from jail time because they can't pay court fines or fees.

The Detroit News reports changes announced Wednesday take effect Sept. 1. The court says job status, available cash, basic living expenses and other special circumstances can be considered.

Earlier this year, a Detroit-area judge accused of sending poor people to jail if they couldn't immediately pay fines agreed to end so-called pay-or-stay sentences after an American Civil Liberties Union challenge.

prison cells
Thomas Hawk / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that Lorinda Swain, who served more than seven years in prison for child abuse, is entitled to a new trial. And the prosecuting attorney says he’s dropping all charges.

Swain was convicted in 2002 of sexually abusing her adopted son. But her son later recanted and told the court he’d lied about the abuse.

Swain’s attorneys also presented new witness testimony they said made the prosecution’s timeline of the abuse impossible.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

That’s what a case coming before the Michigan Supreme Court this week will decide.

The defendant here is Lorinda Swain, who was convicted in 2002 for sexually abusing her adopted son.

But her son later told the court he’d lied about the abuse. After more than seven years in prison, Swain was let out on bond when a judge ruled she deserved a new trial.

But the Court of Appeals overruled that decision two separate times. Now the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case.

Yet  there’s a lot more at stake here than just whether one woman will get a new trial.

Courtesy Photograph

Dearborn Heights judge Mark Plawecki announced today that he is running for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court.

The seat was vacated by former justice Mary Beth Kelly, and is currently occupied by Justice Joan Larsen who was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to replace Kelly and is also eligible to run in the upcoming November election for the seat.

"I believe my experience as a trial court judge for 21 years has given me the preparation to to make the next step up to our state's highest court," said Plawecki. 

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

Anyone who has watched a cop show or has gotten in trouble with the law has heard the portion of the Miranda rights that if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

The question in Michigan is: What kind of lawyer will you get? And what type of defense will you get? 

In some counties, you might get a lawyer from the public defender’s office. In other counties, judges appoint the attorneys. And some lawyers get the job because they were the lowest bidder for a contract with the county.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule that would strengthen the ban on sending poor people to jail if they can't afford to pay fines.

Some District Court judges continue to order so-called pay-or-stay sentences, although the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice in the 1980s.

The proposed rule says a judge cannot send someone to jail for failing to pay a fine unless the defendant can afford it without significant hardship. Judges could come up with a payment plan or waive all or part of the money owed.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to look at the case of a man who's on the sex offender list for life, although his conviction was erased nearly 20 years ago.

  The man was 19 when he was charged with kissing and groping a 12-year-old girl in Wayne County. He pleaded guilty, but his conviction was completely erased in 1997 after he completed three years of probation. A law grants certain breaks to young offenders who stay out of trouble.

  Nonetheless, he's on the sex offender registry.

Supreme Court won't take appeal from fired state lawyer

Dec 19, 2015
screen grab from CNN report

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court won't get involved in the case of a state lawyer who was fired after hounding a gay student leader at the University of Michigan.

 

In a brief order, the court says it won't hear an appeal from Andrew Shirvell over unemployment benefits and other issues.

Shirvell was an assistant attorney general when he was fired in 2010. He had criticized Christopher Armstrong on an anti-gay blog, in Facebook posts and during visits to the University of Michigan.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Candidates and special interests spent almost $10 million trying to sway voters ahead of the 2014 Michigan Supreme Court elections.

That makes Michigan’s court races the most expensive in the U.S., according to a new report from a group called Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

So where did all that money come from?  

Joan Larsen will replace Mary Beth Kelly on the Michigan Supreme Court.
University of Michigan Law School / screen grab from YouTube video

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Joan Larsen to the Michigan Supreme Court today.

Larsen will replace outgoing state Supreme Court justice Mary Beth Kelly who will leave the court tomorrow (Oct. 1) to return to private practice.

Larsen is a faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School and special counsel to the dean for student and graduate activities.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

HOUGHTON, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take an unusual case involving an Upper Peninsula counselor and a teen's false memories of sexual abuse.

The teen's parents are accusing Kathryn Salmi of malpractice in Houghton County. They say their daughter falsely accused the father of sexual abuse because of Salmi's counseling techniques.

  Authorities investigated but no charges were filed. The state appeals court, in a 2-1 decision last year, said Salmi could be sued by the parents.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered that 36th District Judge Brenda Sanders be removed from office due to mental illness.

The ruling was in agreement with a March recommendation from the Judicial Tenure Commission.

The commission said Sander's mental disability was preventing her from doing her job.

Dept of Corrections

The Michigan Supreme Court says a man convicted of killing a three-year-old girl deserves a new trial.

A Calhoun County jury convicted Leo Ackley of felony murder and child abuse in the death of his girlfriend’s daughter. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

User southernfried / MorgueFile.com

Graduates of Michigan's drug, sobriety, and mental health courts are substantially less likely to commit another crime, according to a report recently released by the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Court spokesman John Nevin says problem-solving courts divert select non-violent offenders into intensive treatment and supervision for underlying problems like addiction and mental illness.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A large majority of Michigan's trial courts users are satisfied with their experience, according to a statewide survey released this week by the Michigan Supreme Court.  

The survey found that over 80 percent of court users felt their case was handled fairly and in a timely manner. More than nine out of ten felt they were treated with courtesy and respect by court staff.

Michigan Dept of Corrections

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in a case where a procedural mistake could get a convicted killer a new trial.

At his sentencing, a judge called Brandon Cain the “mastermind” behind the torture and murder of two Hamtramck women in 2012. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A judge has rejected a challenge from opponents of Michigan's right-to-work law who claimed people were illegally locked out of the Capitol when lawmakers debated the legislation in 2012.

Court of Claims Judge Deborah Servitto ruled in favor of the Legislature and dismissed the lawsuit Friday. She says the rights of the public were not impaired when the Capitol was temporarily closed by state police due to overcrowding.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Last month the ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of eight Highland Park students was thrown out by the Michigan Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision.

The suit says the schools didn’t provide students with even basic literacy or math skills, and that therefore the state and the district should be held responsible for that failure.

But the court of appeals tossed the suit, basically because of three points.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack.
Bridget Mary McCormack for Justice

In 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court has decided 52 cases, dealt with judicial misconduct, and endured another contentious election cycle.

But despite widespread perception of the court as a politically-driven institution split along ideological lines, things behind the scenes are actually quite “collegial and high-functioning,” according to Justice Bridget Mary McCormack.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

FLINT  (AP) - A worker's compensation claim in Michigan could require a full tank of gas.

  The Michigan Supreme Court says a person injured on the job has no right to have a worker's compensation hearing in the same county. The court recently reversed a decision from the state appeals court in the case of Lawrence Younkin, who injured his back in Genesee County.

  Younkin sued after officials consolidated offices and moved some hearings to Eaton County from Flint, a distance of roughly 70 miles.

bernsteinforjustice.com

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Richard Bernstein has put more than $1.8 million of his own money into his campaign for the Michigan Supreme Court.

  The disclosure was made Friday as candidates for a variety of political offices met a deadline to report campaign finances. Bernstein is an Oakland County lawyer who was nominated by the Democratic Party for an eight-year term on the Supreme Court.

Michigan Supreme Court

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss a new report saying a quarter of Michigan homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages, Republican congressional candidate David Trott’s rough week and the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision not to reconsider parole hearings for juvenile lifers.


The bottom of the ballot is often ignored. That’s where the non-partisan races are located and includes candidates running for Michigan Supreme Court. Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad recently reviewed a radio ad being aired on behalf of two of the candidates running for the three open seats.

Incumbent Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra were both put on the court by Gov. Rick Snyder.

A radio ad sponsored by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce makes this statement:

“Viviano and Zahra use common sense on Michigan’s Supreme Court. They’re rule-of-law judges.”

That statement colors the rest of the ad.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A watchdog group says $1.2 million has been spent on TV ads in Michigan’s Supreme Court judge races this year and more money is flowing in.

Michigan has three seats on the court on next month’s ballot.

Candidates have spent just under a million dollars themselves.   The Michigan Republican Party recently spent $200,000 to boost three GOP candidates.

Laurie Kinney is with Justice at Stake.    She says spending is rising as Election Day draws closer.

Michigan Hall of Justice
User NewCityOne / flickr.com

The Michigan Supreme Court begins its new session this week. 

The first arguments beginning today will concern several issues, including delinquent taxes, Michigan's open meetings law, and governmental immunity from lawsuits.

Actively, the court is stacking up new cases for the coming months. Thus far, the justices have agreed to hear arguments on safety standards on construction sites and whether an armed robbery defendant was denied his right to effective legal assistance.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Are the judges in? Attendance is being taken at Detroit's 36th District Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court wants regular updates on the court, which was recently returned to local management after severe financial problems and other woes were fixed.

The reports will cover much ground, from caseloads to finances. The court also must disclose the daily arrival time and attendance of judges.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a lot of money being spent to elect Michigan’s Supreme Court justices.

The eight candidates running for three open slots on the Michigan Supreme Court have spent nearly $700,000 on TV ad buys as of this week.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a judge to undergo a mental health exam.

The judge's name was not disclosed in an order released Friday. The judge's attorney, Brian Einhorn, says the judge went on leave earlier this year because of a physical problem and remains off the bench. He declined to elaborate.

The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission wants the judge suspended, but the Supreme Court didn't go that far. The court says the judge must be examined for "psychiatric disorders."

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