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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dr. Dre Is In the House; The Michigan Supreme Courthouse

Honigman Miller's top-notch First Amendment lawyer, Herschel Fink, seems to get all the great cases; at least in my humble opinion.  Today, Fink argued on behalf of Rapper Dr. Dre before the Michigan Supreme Court while Dre's high-powered Los Angeles legal counsel was listening to Mr. Fink from the Court's well-appointed counsel's table.

This case has been up and down the court system here in Michigan for ten-years.

The dispute goes back to Dre's last Detroit concert in July 2000 at the Joe Louis Arena.  Dennis Archer was the Mayor, but was out of town.  Dre was on his infamous "Up in Smoke" tour along with Eminem and Snoop Dog.  The boys had cooked up a racy video deemed inappropriate by the Detroit Police for the youngsters expected to attend the show.

Police commander (and later City Council President) Gary Brown and other police officials met with Dre's concert promoters backstage prior to the show and advised that power to the show would be cut if the explicit video was shown.  After some haggling, and perhaps some arm twisting, the promoters talked the performers to go on with the show, sans intro. The exchanges were openly recorded by a tour film crew.

When the tour moved North the next day to the Palace of Auburn Hills, word had leaked to authorities in that community that the Detroit Police successfully canned the objectionable video intro by threatening to cut power to the event.  The tour went to federal court, that day, and obtained an injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds to prevent any interference with the show on behalf of the police.  The show at the Palace featured the explicit video introduction.

The tour left Michigan, and the promoters sued Detroit and settled for their attorney fees.  Former Mayor Archer issued a public statement that conceded the possibility of an unconstitutional "prior restraint" on behalf of the Detroit Police officers, and recognized the federal court injunction that was subsequently issued.

Six months later, Dre and his producers released a DVD of the tour with some bonus tracks which included a 10-minute segment titled, "Detroit Controversy".  This segment depicted some of the heated exchanges between Commander Brown, the DPD, City officials, and the tour promoters at the Joe.

The officers sued on eavesdropping and other tort theories and saw their case summarily tossed-out by the Wayne County Circuit Court.  The officers' first appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals resulted in an affirmance of the summary disposition, except on the eavesdropping claim.  The intermediate appellate court said dismissal of that claim was premature as discovery had not been completed.

The case was sent back to the Wayne Circuit Court to complete the discovery process.  The additional evidence simply showed the Detroit government officials and police conducting the meeting in "public" areas backstage; doors open and hangers-on gawking.

Even after this so-called "additional evidence" was adduced and discovery finally closed, the Wayne Circuit Court again granted summary disposition in favor of Dr. Dre and the concert promoters; the case again was appealed by the officers to the Court of Appeals.

In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals voted to again remand the eavesdropping claim back to the trial court.  Before the case could go back to the trial court for the second remand, however, the Michigan Supreme Court granted the promoters' application for leave to appeal.  Briefs were filed, and oral argument was conducted today.

The issue to be decided by the High Court is whether law enforcement officials have an expectation of privacy in carrying out their public duties.  Plaintiffs, the government officials and police officer, claim there was an agreement the meeting would be private and that the cameras were "hidden".  Also in-play in this case is the role of the ubiquitous video recorder and the instantaneous world-wide transmission potential of it's digitized content.

For those interested in drilling further into this case, Attorney Fink's appellate brief, complete with several instructive backstage photos, is reproduced here; the police officers' brief is attached here.  Warning:  although well-written, these briefs are not light reading.

We cannot help but wonder what the former Detroit Police commander and other public officials want out of this case.  Money damages from a deep-pocket gangsta rapper?  Exposure from such a high-profile case?

It sure seems to us from the photos in the Appellants' brief, and from the facts set forth by the Court of Appeals, that the core-incident in this case involved a very public meeting about the government's exercise of a "prior restraint".

We will follow this case as it grinds to a conclusion over a decade in the making.  Stay tuned.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the DPD worry about the criminals on the streets instead of Dr. Dre? What did they expect in one of his shows? He is a rapper and there are many videos or shows that are racy these days. Sure, I don't want my kids seeing that crap but its everywhere. DPD is just out to see if they can dip into Dre's money. Stop the murders in Detroit and do something right. How about you take the corruption out of the police force there and make it better before you bother someone else.

January 28, 2011 at 4:36 PM 

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