michigan supreme court

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.

DETROIT (AP) - A robbery of illegal immigrants has exposed sharp differences at the Michigan Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. broke with the court's conservative bloc and joined three liberal justices in letting a minimum five-year prison sentence stand last week.

Jorge Ivan Torres-David pleaded guilty to armed robbery in 2009. A Wayne County judge added points to the sentencing formula after determining that Torres-David targeted illegal immigrants because he believed they would be reluctant to complain to police.

Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly agreed with the trial judge. She says illegal immigrants are "vulnerable victims" when criminals view them as "easy targets."

Justice Stephen Markman calls the decision "remarkable." He and two other Republicans on the court say illegal immigrants now have greater protections as crime victims than law-abiding residents.

The Michigan Supreme Court will soon issue an opinion on whether the new law taxing pensions is constitutional.

If they say it is, it’s full speed ahead for the governor’s plan. If they decided that taxing pensions is not constitutional, it’ll knock a huge hole in the budget. That means the state will have to get more revenue -- which means raising taxes.

That, or roll back the business tax cuts or slash aid to education and other programs more severely than ever.

And while I don’t pretend to know exactly what would happen, I can tell you this, after talking to the governor last week. He isn’t about to roll back the tax cuts, and he doesn’t want to raise taxes.

user subterranean / wikimedia commons

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to let unions and business groups weigh in before the justices rule on whether the state’s new tax on pension income is legal.

The court will hear arguments in the case next week.

Governor Rick Snyder asked the court to cut short any legal challenges with a preemptive ruling.

The governor wants an opinion from the court before the end of the month.

His budget relies on $343 million dollars from taxing pensions, and he wants to avoid months or years of legal wrangling on the question.

The governor asked the court to decide whether the pension tax breaks a promise by the state to retirees and public employees; and whether income limits in the law amount to a graduated income tax – which is prohibited by the state constitution.

The Supreme Court has agreed to accept briefs from retiree associations and unions that oppose the pension tax, as well as business groups that say the tax is fair.

The Michigan Education Association, the UAW, and the AARP are among the groups that filed briefs opposing the tax. They say the pension tax breaks a promise to retirees and public employees, and it violates the state constitution.

Business groups, including the Michigan Bankers Association, and the Small Business Association of Michigan, are backing Governor Rick Snyder. They say the pension tax is fair because it treats all income equally in the tax code.

If the pension tax is upheld, pension income will be subject to the state income tax starting January 1, 2012.

Michigan Supreme Court

Update 12:41 p.m.

The request from Governor Snyder came last Friday.

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, the group filing the lawsuit against the state's emergency manager law, posted the request from the Governor today.

In the request, Governor Snyder says without bypassing the other courts "this lawsuit may take years to reach finality.":

I recognize the significance of seeking a bypass to this court as provided by MCR 7.305, and only request this court's involvement after careful consideration of the urgency and importance of the issues presented here.

Snyder says the severe financial difficulties facing local governments and school districts require that the questions of constitutionality be resolved quickly.

MI Supreme Court: Trails are not highways

Aug 1, 2011

The justices of the Michigan Supreme Court have made their final rulings of this term. That includes a decision that says Michigan cannot be sued for injuries sustained on state-owned trails for all-terrain vehicles.

A woman sued the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after she flipped her ATV while riding with family and friends on a state-owned trail. The vehicle flipped over half-buried boards sticking out of the ground. The woman hit some trees and injured her back. She argued the state is responsible for maintaining trail safety as it is for maintaining highways. She said the trail fell under the definition of a highway.

But the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a trail is a trail or a route, and the state is not responsible for safety on the trails as it is for the highways.

The court ruled four-to-three in favor of the state.

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.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A Michigan Supreme Court says homeless sex offenders must report their home address to the state even though they don’t actually have homes.  Paroled sex offenders are legally required to provide their home address to the state sex offender registry. But what if they’re homeless?   

Randall Lee Dowdy is a convicted rapist.  He was paroled in 2002. But he was arrested again a few years later after he gave the address of a Lansing non-profit as his ‘home address’. Dowdy was homeless at the time.  

Lower courts ruled Dowdy couldn’t be charged with violating the law since he didn’t have a home address to report. 

But the Michigan Supreme Court says homelessness is no excuse. In a 4 to 3 decision, the high court ruled the lower courts had not taken the ‘intent’ of the law into account, adding homelessness doesn’t prevent sex offenders from complying with the law requiring them to report their ‘home’ address to the state.

The dissenting justices describe the majority’s opinion as defying ‘common sense.’

Joe Gratz / Flickr

In a blow to unions’ political fundraising, the Republican-led state Supreme Court has ruled automatic deductions from the paychecks of public employees for political donations is illegal. The GOP majority reversed a decision made by the court last December, when Democrats controlled the court.

The Michigan Education Association’s political action committee is fueled by contributions from teachers and school employees who agree to have their donations deducted automatically by the school district from their paychecks.

The Republican justices ruled that’s a violation of Michigan’s campaign finance law because public resources are used to support a political activity. They said it’s not enough for the union to reimburse school districts for the costs of administering the check-off system.

Democrats say the school districts did not spend any money on politics, and complained it appears the only reason the court reconsidered the decision is because the partisan majority changed as a result of last year’s elections.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Beginning this fall, people serving on Michigan juries will be allowed to play a more active role in the pursuit of justice.   The Michigan Supreme Court announced today that it is revising the rules for people serving as jurors.

Michigan Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court has agreed to Governor Rick Snyder’s request to make an early ruling on whether the new income tax on pensions violates the Michigan Constitution.

Governor Snyder made the request to avoid what potentially could be years of litigation.

The governor is trying to preempt an expected lawsuit from state employee unions. They say the tax on pensions will illegally reduce their agreed-to compensation under collective bargaining agreements.

The Michigan Constitution says the state may not “diminish” nor “impair” the financial benefits of pension plans.

The governor wants the question settled before the pension tax takes effect next year. The law extends the state income tax for the first time to pensions of people born after 1945.

The Supreme Court ordered oral arguments to be held in the case in September. The court has a Republican majority.

User sabine01 / Flickr

A work of fiction written by a person charged with a crime can be used against the defendant in court according to a new decision from the Michigan Supreme Court.

The question before the state’s highest court was whether a story a defendant had written depicting graphic scenes of incest between siblings and their father could be used against him as evidence of his intent.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tomorrow, the Michigan Supreme Court will consider a rule change that could put local governments in a stronger position to challenge unfunded state mandates.  

The Headlee Amendment is a state constitutional amendment meant to reduce unfunded state mandates on local governments, like requiring but not necessarily providing extra money for special education programs. 

wikimedia commons

It's a case that has turned into a political football for the conservative and liberal incarnations of the Michigan Supreme Court.

In an order released today, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

From the Associated Press:

The case involved the discharge of partially contaminated water to a popular trout stream. In December, the court's liberal majority used the case to give more rights to people to challenge
state regulators over certain environmental permits.

At issue is whether people have the right to sue the state over pollution concerns when the state issues things like pollution discharge permits.

The case that was argued involved the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Merit Energy, and the Anglers of the AuSable.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court is faced with the question of whether a work of fiction can be used against the author if they are charged with a crime.  

A Bay County man was convicted of molesting his young granddaughter. Used against him during the trial was a fictionalized “sex manual” he wrote about incestuous sex between siblings and their father. 

Chief Justice Robert Young summed up the question before the court during today's hearing.  

“We’re now trying to determine the extent to which this incest fantasy is admissible, and why if it is.”   

Sylvia Linton is the prosecuting attorney. She says  the trial-court judge made a valid point about fictional works:

“Just because Sophocles wrote about incest doesn’t mean he would do that. Well that’s true, but if Sophocles was on trial for having incest with his mother, then I think it becomes extremely relative.”

To which Justice Stephen Markham asked:

 “So if Agatha Christie is charged with murder, the fact that she wrote several first-person stories about murder would be relevant as evidence?”   

The prosecutor says in some cases, yes, Agatha Christie’s stories could have been used against her.

The defense attorney says allowing works of fiction to be admitted as evidence would open the door for what could be used against a person, and prevent people from receiving fair trials.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case later this year.