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Michigan Politics

Business Leader Supports "Getting Smart on Crime"

This happened earlier this year, but I just saw this testimony to the Michigan Legislature from a conservative business leader recognizing what our side has always known -- excessive incarceration is an exceptionally expensive waste of tax payer money. Even though prosecutors still don’t seem to get it, rehabilitation works and is cheaper than the locking them away and tossing away the key, I’m glad to see that the business community is starting to see it.

Thankfully, this does not seem to be the case in this election. While there are general references to “protecting Michigan families,” the economy rather than getting tough on crime seems to be the main theme of this election.

Cheap Shot: Attacking a Lawyer for Her Client's Crimes

A colleague I like very much (Bridget McCormack) is running for judge. She is being attacked because she volunteered to consult on the Gittmo cases. I find it deeply offensive. I can't even believe that people would honestly think that you should vote against lawyer because of who our clients are. I've had close friends give up years of their life volunteering to defend war crime trials for little or no money just to make sure that the trial is fair. If Colleen O'Brien (Bridget's opponent) is as committed to the rule of law as her advertising claims,she'd be out there disavowing this attack ad.

I joined the ACLU when they defended the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie. I'm Jewish. My counsel took six months out of his life to take a court appointed cases defending folks who the FBI claimed were planning on overthrowing the US government (the Hutari militia). The judge found the case unfounded and
acquitted his client. My old mentor James C. Thomas defended a mentally ill man the Government claimed was a terrorist. The Government dropped charges and fired the Assistant United States Attorney who was caught hiding evidence showing this man was innocent.

The Judge Judys of the world are not the "tough judges." They are the bullies. The lawyer who risks having his house fire bombed to represent the unpopular individual is like this pathetic woman's soldier-son. They are carrying out their vow to uphold the constitution. They should be applauded, not condemned.
The tragedy is the type of person who extends themselves in this way is precisely the type of person who would make the best judge. They are driven to these acts for concern for the system, rather than personal gain. For example, I'm reasonably good friends with Judy Clarke, the attorney who defended Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City), Susan Smith (accused of drowning her two children in North Carolina), Ted Kaczynski (the uni-bomber) and Jared Loughner (the nut job who shot Gabrielle Giffords). She is one of the most decent persons I know, a retired public defender, and the exact opposite of "money grubbing." She is certainly not in favor of blowing up people, courthouses, shooting elected officials, or drowning children. These individuals are the type of person who will rule the way the case law takes them even if it is politically unpopular. It is a shame if this type of attack strategy drives the people most capable of being the best judges out of the running.

A friend of mine reminded me that our second President of the United States (John Adams) defended British Regulars accused of killing civilians during the Boston Massacre. This is what lawyers do. I know all the jokes made about us, but most of us work twice as hard as the average joe to earn an ordinary pay check. We are not Geoff Feiger, we are folks who are slugging it out to make sure the system is fair. The more society hates our client, the bigger the chance that people will cut corners to get a conviction. Many of the folks arrested on suspicion of terrorism are ultimately freed because even the Government isn't sure they are guilty. As Shakespeare recognized , if you want to destroy a society “
first kill all the lawyers."

Justice Weaver Lays Out Plan to De-Politicize the Court

The Michigan Supreme has come under a great deal of criticism for the political nature of the Court. A University of Chicago Law Review found the Michigan Supreme Court the worst state supreme court in the entire country. See also: Jack Lessenberry, Metro Times - News+Views: Let's make a deal, One of the principal charges is that the Court is too partisan and that the politics of the judges control the substances of the rulings.

As a result of this,
Michigan is taking a serious look at changing the way we select judges. This move has broad cross-party support. Democratic Justice Marilyn Kelly and Republican Sixth Circuit (and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice James P. Ryan) are chairing a task force on this reform. The reform movement is supported by the conservative Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chroncile, and other Michigan papers have supported this change. This is particularly timely, in lieu of the charges that in the last election, corporations with a financial stake in future rulings invested heavily in the judicial races.

According to the Michigan Law Blog, former Justice Elizabeth Weaver came forward with a multi-faceted plan to depoliticize Michigan’s Supreme Court. Her suggestions are interesting, but one has to question whether Justice Weaver’s name has become so tarnished that she cannot be the message bearer for these proposals.

An elected judiciary (particularly after the Citizens United ruling) is particularly troubling. In
Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, 103 SCt 876 (2010),the United States Supreme Court struck down limits on campaign spending by outside organizations. People want a neutral judiciary and most jurists want to provide this service to the public, but as justices need to raise money, fend off attack adds, etc., it makes it very difficult for a judge or justice not to consider his/her own political career when ruling on a case.

The Great Recession Has Forced a New Exploration of Rehabilitation Instead of Retribution in Sentencing

An interesting debate as been growing in the media about whether refocusing the criminal justice system back towards rehabilitation is a smart budget cutting move. Michigan Department of Corrections Director Patricia Caruso has channeled significant resources into rechanneling corrections towards community based supervision and away from incarceration. Despite significant evidence that this works, vast improvements criminogenic predictive tests, and technology for enhanced supervision, prosecutors continue to argue that the only cure is long prison sentences. Earlier this month, the New York Times had a fascinating story about this. Meanwhile a report from Texas (of all states) notes a significant cost savings and reduction in reoffenses in cases utilizing a similar approach. To read the story, click here. Similarly, a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes similar trends in many states. For more information on these sentencing/parole predictors from an academic perspective, explore this article (pay access) by Professors Davis, Severy, Kraus, and Whitake

Michigan Messenger Predicts a Bloody Fight for Michigan Supreme Court

Wendrow Family May Face a Steep Climb to Justice

"Reform Michigan Government Now" Opinion Finally Released

Yesterday, I reported on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Reform Michigan Government Now v State of Secretary of State. I also noted that the official opinion had not been released. Today, the opinion was finally released. While the decision is 6 to 1 (Justice Kelley dissented), there are numerous different theories in the opinion and there is clearly no majority as to reasoning. The Court of Appeals had held that the proposal was too complex to be summarized in under 100 words (as required by the constitution). Ironically, the day after the Court of Appeals handed down its ruling, the Board of Elections created a 100 word summary which did a nice job of summarizing the ballot initiative.

Michigan Supreme Court Keeps "Reform Michigan Now" Initiative Off the Ballot

Today, a divided Michigan Supreme Court today upheld the Court of Appeals decision to bar the so-called Reform Michigan Government Now proposal from going before voters in November. The Court found that multi-faceted proposal could not be considered as a singular ballot initiative. The ruling (not yet available on the Court’s website) was reported by both the Lansing State Journal and the Detroit Free Press. A great summary of the defunct proposal appears on the website of the conservative Mackinaw Center for Law and Public Policy. Their website even includes a summary prepared by the UAW. Michigan State University has also posted a great summary, including many of the source documents.

The Supreme Court majority consisting of Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and Justices Michael Cavanagh, Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman, Elizabeth Weaver and Robert Young Jr. -- said the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal to enact three dozen constitutional changes, including pay cuts for elected officials, reductions in the size of the Legislature and appellate judiciary, and changes in redistricting rules, was too broad to be addressed by the amendment process and could not be adequately explained on the ballot in 100 words as required. Justice Marilyn Kelly dissented, suggesting the court was leaving open to question the standards for future proposed amendments.

The Reform Michigan Government Now proposal, drafted and supported by top state Democratic Party insiders, was challenged by a group of elected officials and interest groups led by the state Chamber of Commerce. According to an internal Reform Michigan Government Now memo inadvertently released to the public, the proposal was viewed by Democratic Party officials as the most cost-effective way for the party to gain control of all three branches of state government. The Reform Michigan Now Official website has not been updated to reflect the Court’s ruling.

Diane Hathaway to Challenge Cliff Taylor for State Supreme Court

According to The Michigan Lawyer’s Blog, Dianne Hathaway received the democratic nomination to challenge Cliff Taylor in the fall. Here’s a link to the Mlive story on the same nomination. The M-Live story seems to state that Governor Granholm also supports this nomination. Several days ago, Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press wrote a sobering analysis of Judge Hathaway’s chances. Judge Hathaway is a fifteen year veteran of the Wayne County Circuit Court. She appears to have solid Democratic rank and file support. Judge Hathaway Photo