michigan supreme court

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly cares deeply about our highest court, on which she has served for sixteen years.

For a long time, a number of things have bothered her about the court.  A University of Chicago law school study four years ago ranked Michigan’s Supreme Court dead last in the nation. Among its criteria: “Judicial independence from political and outside influences.”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court has decided to let Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts remain on the job.

The court issued a unanimous decision Monday rejecting an appeal of a lower court decision upholding Roberts' appointment.

The case was brought by Robert Davis, an activist who has filed several suits challenging aspects of Michigan's emergency manager law.

State Integrity Investigation

In the opening of his State Integrity Investigation piece, reporter Chris Andrews shows us why Michigan gets the failing grade:

The campaign finance system here has more holes than I-94 after a spring thaw. Big spenders and special interests can easily shovel millions of dollars into election activities — secretly if they choose... And the financial disclosure system for state elected officials?

Well actually, there isn’t one.

Welcome to Michigan, the “Trust Us” State when it comes to transparency. Reform efforts are frequently launched, sometimes debated, always shelved.

The State Integrity Investigation is a project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.

The project aims to "expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols -- and spotlight the states that are doing things right."

You can see how all the states stack up here.

Clearly, Michigan is not going to make the highlight reel.

Overall, after looking at 330 specific measures of "state integrity," Michigan ranked 43rd among the 50 states.

And while Lansing has not been rocked by scandals seen in some other state capitols around the country, Andrews writes there are "glaring holes," when it comes to transparency in money spent to lobby lawmakers, and in the money spent to elect or defeat candidates in Michigan.

Michigan Supreme Court elections, a seat money can buy

How money can influence the perceived integrity, or the real integrity of an office was highlighted in a recent piece by Michigan Radio's Lester Graham.

In his Michigan Watch report, Money Talks: Campaign money and Supreme Court justice candidates, Graham illustrated how once a candidate wins a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court "no one really knows if a case is being decided strictly on the merits, or because of someone’s hidden political donation and its influence."

Graham spoke with former Michigan Supreme Court justice Betty Weaver about this:

“It isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, this money does have influence. Common sense tells you it does. I’ve been there,” said Weaver.

LG: Do you think you’ve seen on the court influence because of a large donor at one time or another?  

“Yes, I do think that the ability to control who gets appointed and who gets elected has an effect on the decisions of the court, so you can pretty well guess how it’s going to go,” said Weaver.

In his State Integrity Investigation piece on Michigan, Chris Andrews notes that Gov. Snyder proposed an ethics package when he was running for governor in 2010. Snyder called for banning gifts from lobbyists, "cooling-off periods," and regulating issue advertising.

But while Snyder achieved many of his campaign goals after taking office in 2011, these reforms were put on the back burner.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told Andrews that lawmakers in Michigan are unlikely to change anything unless the public demands it.

Matthileo Capitol / Flickr

Update 3/27/2012:

"The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision," Rick Pluta reports.

Original Post 3/23/2012:

This week, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I decided to take a look at the political shenanigans playing out in Oakland County.

The Back-story

“There is a fight between Oakland County politicians – Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about the murky, dirty, filthy process of drawing new district lines for politicians to run in. In Oakland County, [the redrawing] is done by a bi-partisan panel. In this case, it’s a panel that has more Democrats than Republicans and the Democrats drew a map that the Republicans didn’t like,” Pluta explains.

So, some Republican lawmakers from Oakland County decided to have the state legislature change the redrawing rules. They devised a measure to allow the County Commission, which is controlled by Republicans, to redraw the lines. The measure was then passed by the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.

Democrats cried foul. They challenged the new law and, last month, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette overturned it. Collette ruled the law violated the Michigan Constitution and that the governor and the Legislature illegally interfered in a local political question.

The question over the legality of the law made its way to the state’s highest court this week. On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides.

Politically-motivated maps

Republicans all along contended that the reason for the new law was to save taxpayers money. Democrats, and many pundits, said it was pure politics: that the GOP changed the rules so that Republican dominance on the County Board wouldn’t be challenged. But, this kind of claim is always hard to prove. Hard to prove… unless you have emails.

Busted: GOP emails released

This week, emails between Republican Oakland County officials and GOP lawmakers were released after the Oakland County Democratic Party filed a Freedom of Information Act. The emails appear to show, “officials in the offices of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s office and state Representatives – primarily Rep. Eileen Kowall – basically plotting and trying to find a rationale to kick this redistricting process back over to the County Commission where Republicans would control it,” Pluta explains.

‘It’s gonna be ugly’

In one email, Rep. Kowall wrote, “I guess it would also help to have (a) legitimate explanation as to why we waited until now, after redistricting plans have been submitted, to take these bills up.” She also wrote, “The quicker things move the better, ’cause it’s gonna be ugly.”

INKSTER, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court is extending the deadline for a report on possible misconduct by a Detroit-area judge.

Sylvia James, a District Court judge in Inkster, is accused of misspending more than $100,000, either for her personal use or for community projects unrelated to the court. The Supreme Court wanted a recommendation from the Judicial Tenure Commission by mid-May, but the deadline has been pushed to June 15.

James denies any wrongdoing. A hearing with six weeks of testimony was held earlier this year.

FB user sarawestermark

The Michigan Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to benefits that cover the live-in partners of state employees. That ruling means the challenge will have to go first to the state Court of Appeals. This is the newest wrinkle in the legal and political drama playing out over allowing benefits that cover public employees’ unmarried partners, including people in same-sex relationships.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a Macomb County man who claims his constitutional rights were violated when jurors were allowed to discuss evidence before the end of his trial.

The court heard arguments but recently decided not to issue a formal opinion. A state appeals court ruling upholding Maurice Richards' carjacking conviction will stand.

DETROIT (AP) — Democrats have chosen their favorites for this fall's Michigan Supreme Court and education board races, hoping once again to give their candidates a five-month jump in fundraising and campaigning over Republicans.

Votes at Saturday's state convention in Detroit were nonbinding, since Democrats can't nominate candidates until the party's September convention. Republicans will nominate candidates in August.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court is considering a case related to whether the timing of the oath of office should affect the status of Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts.

The court heard oral arguments in the case Thursday.

The case was brought by Robert Davis, an activist who has filed several suits challenging aspects of Michigan's emergency manager law.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court today will consider a case that affects the 131,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan. The case centers on where patients can grow their marijuana.   

Larry Steven King grew his medical marijuana plants in a locked dog kennel at his home in Owosso. King has a medical marijuana card. But police charged him with growing marijuana illegally. The kennel did not have roof.  

Prosecutors say that means it did not meet the state requirement for an ‘enclosed, locked facility’ . 

Attorney John Minock represents Larry King. Minock says the problem is with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which he says is vague on what exactly an ‘enclosed, locked facility’ actually entails.   

“Larry was trying to comply with the law, as he understood it," says Minock, "The law on this area is not really clear.” The case split the lower courts. The trial court dismissed the charges, finding that the marijuana had been stored properly. But the Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors that the kennel did not meet the law’s requirements.

Eggrole / Flicker

A campaign to legalize marijuana is expected to launch an effort this week to get the question of legalization before voters this November.

Matthew Abel is an organizer with the campaign. He says he thinks most Michigan voters want to legalize marijuana.It’s pretty clear that the polls in favor of ending the drug war, especially against marijuana, go in our favor," Abel says.

Voters in Michigan approved the state’s medical marijuana law by a wide margin in 2008. Abel says the campaign to legalize marijuana does not yet have the same level of funding the medical marijuana campaign had a couple years ago. The campaign to legalize marijuana must gather more than 300,000 valid signatures by early July to get the question on the ballot.

The state Supreme Court will also hear a case this week on the rules for medical marijuana clinics.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court plans to hear a case over whether the state-appointed emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools should be removed from office.

The court announced in an order Wednesday it would hear the case brought by Robert Davis, which was rejected by the state Court of Appeals. It says oral arguments are planned and briefs from those
involved are due within 42 days.

Davis argues that the office of emergency manager should be declared vacant because Roy Roberts didn't immediately take the oath of office earlier this year.

Roberts later took the oath.

The district said in a statement that Roberts "continues to work on the hard daily tasks of strengthening educational opportunities for Detroit students and righting Detroit Public Schools finances."

Eridony / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled an Upper Peninsula mining company is not legally responsible for maintaining an intersection heavily traveled by its trucks – or for the critical injuries suffered by a bicyclist who lost her balance at the rough juncture.   

Debra McCue was tossed from her bike while riding in the DALMAC bicycle tour along the southern edge of the Upper Peninsula. She hit a rough patch at an intersection with a private gravel road owned by the ON Minerals Company. The intersection is frequently used by the company’s trucks and bulldozers. The Supreme Court earlier dismissed the family’s lawsuit against the state Department of Transportation because McCue had signed a waiver.

The Supreme Court’s Republican majority says the private company had no duty to maintain the intersection, even if it was responsible for wearing it down to the point where steel support beams were exposed. The court’s Democrats dissented. Justice Michael Cavanagh wrote that, at the very least, the mining company should have informed the state about the condition of the intersection.

screen grab from City of Inkster website

Last April, Inskster District Court Judge Sylvia James was placed on administrative leave with pay after city officials leveled charges of financial mismanagement against her.

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Alvarez reported, James "could not explain why court funds were used to pay for travel, clothing, and other expenses."

Another judge took her place, and the State Supreme Court started looking into the charges.

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether Michigan State University can continue to enforce its rule against harassing its employees as they do their jobs.

Jared Rapp confronted and yelled at a university employee in an MSU parking garage after he found a ticket on his car.

The employee felt threatened and called the campus police.

The employee sat in his car waiting for the police to arrive while Rapp hovered outside the vehicle and snapped pictures with his mobile phone.

Rapp was charged with a misdemeanor and was later convicted of violating a university rule against interfering with MSU employees.

A judge reversed the conviction. He said the rule is so vague it would be hard for a reasonable person to know if they broke the rule.

The rule has been upheld by the state Court of Appeals, though, and the prosecutor hopes the Michigan Supreme Court will do the same.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to decide whether the Michigan High School Athletic Association discriminated against a former exchange student from South Korea.

The MHSAA said he was only eligible to play one year of high school football and denied him permission to be a member of the Hudson High School varsity team.

The rule is meant to stop schools from recruiting exchange students to build championship teams.

The state Department of Civil Rights sued the high school athletic association for discrimination based on race and national origin.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story stated the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The text and title have been corrected in this version.

Joe Gratz / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear a case tomorrow where an African-American man claims he was denied a fair trial because of a computer error. The error caused fewer jury notices to go to households in African-American neighborhoods.  

Ramon Bryant is challenging his convictions on charges of criminal sexual conduct, stealing $90, and possession of marijuana. Bryant says he was denied a trial before a jury of his peers that is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

The question is whether the unintentional exclusion of African-Americans from the jury pool entitles Bryant to a new trial with a new jury. A computer error caused fewer jury notices to be sent to ZIP codes in Kent County with higher minority populations.

Bradley Hall is with the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan. He says the law requires juries be a “fair cross-section” of the community.

"Excluding of a minority population from jury service does not create a fair and reasonable representation of the community," said Hall. “"So it sort of happened by happenstance but there's no question it's systematic."

The prosecutor argues the mistake was accidental, and that there are other explanations as to why so few African Americans reported for jury duty.

Michigan's Attorney General says Bryant's conviction should stand. The AG's office contends the jury chosen made its decision based on the evidence.

When the Legislature returns to the state Capitol next week, there will be another item added to its to-do list. That is: coming up with millions of dollars to fill a budget gap created by the state Supreme Court decision on Michigan’s new pension tax. The court upheld the tax on pensions, but said denying a tax break to some higher-earners effectively created a graduated income tax.

A graduated income tax is not allowed under the state constitution. That part of the decision also blew a $60 million hole in the state budget. Sixty million dollars is a small part of a general fund budget that exceeds $8 billion.

But it is an amount the governor and the Legislature will need to make up to meet their obligation under the state constitution to have a balanced budget. One possibility would be to use a projected surplus from last year’s budget to fill the gap. That number becomes official in January. But it appears the surplus will be somewhere near $400 million.

Lawmakers are already fighting over what to do with that money. Democrats say it should be used to restore some budget cuts to schools. Republicans say it should go into the state’s “rainy day” savings fund, or to pay down debt.

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.

Republicans in the state Legislature want to change Michigan’s workers compensation law. They say the changes would help Michigan businesses by reducing what business owners pay in insurance premiums.

Democrats say the changes would also reduce the amount of money given to many injured workers.       

Michael Czinski was hurt on the job as a police officer a few years ago. He broke his wrist in a fall and damaged an artery that supplied blood to the area. Three surgeries later, he has limited use of his right hand.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could affect a large number of  home foreclosures.    

The Court of Appeals ruled that mortgage lenders should not have used a national industry agency to file the foreclosures. The lower court found the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, had no standing to file the foreclosure paperwork.    

“Anytime you’re going to take the fast track on foreclosing and take another person’s property…you need to be able to do it correctly…and right ….and legitimately," sais Lorray Brown, an attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program.

Michigan Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court said it wants more information before it responds to Governor Rick Snyder’s request for a speedy ruling on whether Michigan’s new emergency manager law is constitutional.

Governor Rick Snyder took the unusual step of asking the state Supreme Court to take the case without waiting for lower courts to rule first.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of voters from several cities who say the emergency manager law violates separation of powers and their right to self-government.

The law made it easier for the state to appoint emergency managers, and dramatically expanded their authority over the local governments they are supposed to fix.

The Supreme Court gave both sides until mid-December to file arguments on why the justices should circumvent the usual path of a lawsuit through the appeals process, and why they should win in the end.

There is also a petition drive underway to call a referendum challenge to the emergency manager law.

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the Justice at State Campaign says the outside money being spent in state high court races amounts to a "hostile takeover of judicial elections."

The authors of the report, the New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009-2010, wrote that $16.8 million was spent on television advertising for state high court elections in the 2009-10 election cycle — "making 2009-10 the costliest non-presidential election cycle for TV spending in judicial elections."

According to the report, more television campaign ads for state high court elections ran in Michigan than in any other state during the 2010 election cycle.

10,781 ads ran in Michigan. That total accounts for 29 percent of the total state high court campaign ads to run across the country.

And for total money spent on these campaigns, Michigan is at the top.

From the report:

Michigan, ranked sixth in candidate fundraising, surges to No. 1 when all sources of money, including independent TV ads, are considered.

The Top Ten states by total spending on state high court elections, 2009-2010:

Rep. Paul Scott's official website

The Michigan Supreme Court says it will not stop or postpone a recall election targeting a state lawmaker.  Today’s decision clears the way for the November 8 vote.   

Republican Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) has spent much of the past month trying to convince the courts to stop next month’s recall election.

With less than two weeks to go before the November 8 vote, the Michigan Supreme Court appears to have had the final word on Scott’s request and that word is ‘no’.  

Scott’s been arguing that there was a problem with the way recall petition signatures were collected and that there’s been so much confusion around whether the vote would take place, that it would be better to cancel or postpone the recall election. 

But in its order, the state supreme court expresses the hope that “officials charged with administering the election in Genesee County will ensure the fullest participation in the electoral process of all citizens.”   

The Michigan Education Association is behind the Scott recall campaign, targeting Scott for his support for cuts in state education spending and anti-union legislation.

Rep. Paul Scott's official website

We may hear as early as today whether a recall election targeting a state Republican lawmaker will be rescheduled from next month to next year.    

State Representative Paul Scott asked the Michigan Supreme Court to order a vote on recalling him from office moved from November 8th to next February. 

Next month’s recall has been bouncing around the courts this month as Scott has tried to get the entire recall election cancelled.   A judge did issue a temporary injunction stopping the vote only to be overruled by the Michigan Supreme Court.   In its decision, the high court ruled that judge's order cancelling the November recall created ‘practical problems’,  like what to do with absentee ballots that had already been mailed.  

Scott’s attorney is now arguing that the Supreme Court’s own ruling is adding to the confusion. 

The recall campaign says Scott only wants to reschedule the recall vote to February, so it can be held on the same ballot as the Republican presidential primary.   

A spokesman for state House Republicans insists the February date was only proposed since it’s the next regularly scheduled election.

Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley issued more formal opinions about the constitutionality of various Michigan laws than any attorney general in history.

Of course, that’s partly because he served longer in the office than any attorney general in the history of this or any other state-- thirty-seven years. He was elected ten times, and retired before he had to. Now nearly eighty-seven, he is mostly cheerful, healthy, and enjoying life from his home on Lake Lansing.

(official court portrait)

A state Supreme Court justice is refusing to remove himself from hearing a challenge to the Michigan’s tough new local emergency manager law. Supreme Court Justice Steve Markman says he has no conflict of interest even though his wife worked on a challenge to the law in federal court.

Kathleen Markman is an assistant state attorney general who did what was described as procedural work to defend the law against the federal court challenge. She has since been removed from the case.

Joe Gratz / flickr

The state Supreme Court will decide whether a man charged with sexually assaulting two children was denied a fair trial because one of the victims testified from behind a screen. The screen shielded her view of the defendant. But he could still see her.

The defendant's attorney, Scott Grabel, says the screen made the jury more likely to believe his client was guilty:

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.

Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases on whether people who use a family vehicle without permission are covered by no-fault benefits if they are injured in a crash.

In one case, Ryan DeYoung was excluded from his wife’s insurance policy.

In September of 2008, he got drunk, took his wife’s car without permission and crashed the vehicle.

The hospital and recovery center billed the insurance company, which denied the claim.

The insurance company is challenging an appeals court ruling that says DeYoung was covered under “joyriding” clause that typically covers teen-aged drivers who take their parents’ vehicles without permission.

In a separate case, an insurer is challenging a ruling that Craig Smith Junior was covered for injuries he sustained when he crashed his father’s SUV into a tree while driving drunk.

Smith did not have a valid license, and had been told not to drive the vehicle. The insurance company tried to deny coverage because Smith broke the law when he took the wheel of his parent’s car.

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