Blogs > The Law Blogger

The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
For more information email: info@clarkstonlegal.com

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CSI Oakland County

Hard to believe that right here in Oakland County, Michigan, there is sufficient crime to sustain a nearly $2 million dollar a year crime lab.  Yet that is what Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard will be announcing this morning in conjunction with his department's request for an expanded crime lab.

Sheriff Bouchard is expected to tout the Oakland County crime lab's accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors; the first lab in Michigan to achieve such status.  Allocation of the resources for the proposed expansion (up to 3 additional employees and the constantly advancing hi-tech equipment with which they will work) seems like politically rough terrain in these times.

Apparently, the expansion will allow Oakland County to by-pass the lab operated by the Michigan State Police, thereby significantly reducing delays.  The MSP crime lab has been flooded with additional work since the City of Detroit shuttered its crime lab amid claims of mismanagement and abuse; claims that are being investigated by the MSP.

This blogger recently experienced the effects of the MSP lab's processing delays in a felony case in Oakland County.  It took the Oakland County Prosecutor nearly 8-months to confirm blood reports tying my client to a crime scene.

The prosecutor ended up sending the blood-work to a private lab in Virginia.  During the months it took to process the evidence, my client was sent to prison on another unrelated matter from Detroit.  

Although the delay was not the accused's fault, he sat in prison on dead time in my case, willing to plead guilty and get his Oakland County case over with.  This was not possible due to the evidentiary delays.  Not that I am asking you to shed any tears for this hardened skell; but we pay for such delays one way or another.

If an expanded lab lessens delays, expedites justice, and eases the burden on the state lab, that's all good.  It's just a shame that our community sports enough crime to make such an arena possible.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So You Want to Be a Circuit Judge

Good news!  Governor Rick Snyder has put out an official notice for applications to fill a seat opening up on the Wayne County Circuit Court vacated by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly.  Here is the application, should you be an interested practicing attorney living in Wayne County.

Some fantastic Wayne Circuit Judges have come from gubernatorial appointments; Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra comes to mind.

Although not completely clear, this current spot will probably be on the family court, so you would preside over a steady diet of divorces and custody battles.

Once you get appointed, don't get too comfortable; the State Court Administrative Office has slated one Wayne County judgeship for elimination no later than January 2013.  Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano is calling for more judicial eliminations given Detroit's declining population.

Upon your completion of the judicial term to which you were appointed, if you wanted to keep your job, you would have to run for election on the Wayne County non-partisan ballot.  Don't miss those deadlines; and better start raising funds now for your election.

If this sounds good to you, then download the attached form and get cracking on those references; the Governor's deadline is fast approaching.

http://www.clarkstonlegal.com/

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Anti-Shariah Law (Part II)

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit)
The Law Blogger recently posted on the Anti-Shariah movement earlier this month.  Now, the Michigan legislature is getting in on the act along with the American Bar Association.

HB 4769, sponsored by Rep. Dave Agema of Grandville and numerous other legislators, seeks to restrict contracts and agreements calling for the application of foreign laws whenever such application would conflict with the rights set forth in the U. S. and Michigan Constitutions.  The bill was introduced last week and was assigned to the Judiciary Committee of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Judges presiding over disputes involving such contracts and agreements would be required to amend the application of the foreign law to protect the litigant's constitutional rights.  If an amended application of the choice of law provision is not feasible, then the foreign law provision is deemed null and void.

Under such a provision, you could kiss Shariah Law goodbye; at least if either party to an agreement calling for the application of the Islamic code wanted to escape the burden of the contract.  This scenario would come up most often in the family law context where prenuptial agreements between religiously devout Muslims frequently call for the application of Shariah Law in the divorce judgment.  If Agema's bill passes, the family court judge could not honor the prenuptial agreement.

This possibility has Michigan's Arabic community speaking out.  Michigan's only Muslim legislator, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D. Detroit), called a press conference to denounce Agema's bill, stating that her constituents found it "very very offensive" to the extent the bill would cast suspicion on Muslims.

Transactional attorneys that negotiate contracts with international choice of forum clauses are concerned these provisions would be subject to litigation.  Until now, such contract clauses routinely have been  enforced by Michigan judges.

In the last few years, anti-foreign law bills have sprung up in 22 state legislatures but only Arizona managed to pass their bill into law in April.  In the 2010 elections, Oklahoma voters approved an anti-foreign law ballot measure, but the proposal was short-lived having been invalidated in federal court on First Amendment grounds.

The American Bar Association passed resolutions earlier this month denouncing any federal or state laws that impose blanket prohibitions against the use of foreign laws or religious codes.

In our free society where the First Amendment reigns supreme, just who's law is it anyway?  Go figure.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Ruled Illegal by Court of Appeals

Yes, the ballot proposal writers hired by our pot lobby handed criminal defense lawyers a gift-horse when they wrote-up the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.  Just how are folks supposed to get their marijuana anyway?

A 3-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals has reversed an Isabella County Circuit Judge that had denied the county prosecutor's request for an injunction that would close down the local Compassion Apothecary; a medical marijuana dispensary.  After this decision, consider the Apothecary closed.

The sole issue decided in the case was whether the MMA provides for the "sale" of medical marijuana.  The Court of Appeals said, "no".  That was a foregone conclusion under any plain reading of the provisions of the Act.

Anyone reading the MMA will note that the referendum writers, in their wisdom, provided two ways for "patients" to obtain their, er, "medication".  Either you "grow your own", or you get your pot from a certified care provider who can only service 5 patients at a time with an overall limit to the total number of marijuana plants on the premises.  The MMA is silent, however, on dispensaries; nor does it provide for transfer by sale.

The Compassion Apothecary [BTW, even the name of this dispensary was illegal so they changed it to "CA"] is a membership-based collective designed to distribute a continuous supply of marijuana to certified patients.  The Apothecary  operates a locker system whereby patients and care providers pay monthly fees for both membership in the collective and use of a locker.

The CA is a "no grow" and "no smoke" facility.  Patients can inspect [see, smell and touch] a wide variety of marijuana strains prior to purchase.  The pot price is set by the care provider; the CA takes a 20% "service fee" on the transaction.

Sounds like an organic "win-win" right?  Wrong.  The collective ran afoul of the law, according to the Court of Appeals, as the MMA does not allow patient-to-patient sales or transfers.  Also, the Court held that the CA illegally "possessed" the marijuana under both the Public Health Code, and the MMA.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded that the CA could be shut down on the basis it was a "public nuisance" as contended by the Isabella County Prosecutor.  Case closed; the CA dispensary, and all others like it, are out of business by operation of this published, thus binding, decision of the Court of Appeals.

While the CA huddles with its attorneys to decide whether to take further appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette applauded the decision as a much needed patch on a law that "has more holes than Swiss Cheese."   AG Schuette told the Detroit News that the MMA has been "hijacked" by folks looking to profit from pot sales and by unscrupulous doctors issuing bogus patient certifications.

This blog has long-held the view that the MMA is a poor law.  The Act does not square with the reality that many qualified "patients", perhaps even a majority, once endorsed by Michigan's DCH, smoke pot recreationally, not medicinally.

Some "On-the-Take" physicians conduct cursory reviews of an applicants' medical records in their assessment of a claimed chronic or debilitating medical condition, as required under the Act.  Schuette is looking to criminalize bogus physician certifications.  We're certainly behind that legislative initiative; good luck Bill.

Whenever a law is based on a fiction, as this one is, our jurisprudence suffers.  As AG Schuette correctly points out, too many folks are equating legalization of marijuana with the medicinal use of marijuana.  In this decision, the Court of Appeals removes this stubborn disconnect.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

When Your Children Live with a Murderer Endorsed by the Family Court

A very worried Trisha Conlon
This bizarre family law custody case is playing out in Seattle, WA.  The unusual facts of the case bring into sharp focus the challenge of putting parents' often-questionable decisions through review by a family court judge.

In 1995 Trisha Conlon married Marine fighter pilot John Cushing, Jr.; a man with a tragic past.  His ex-wife, Kristine Cushing, shot to death their two young daughters, 4 and 8, while they slept in their Southern California home.  This was in 1991, when Mr. Cushing was on active duty in the Marine Corps and Mrs. Cushing, by all accounts, was an ideal soccer Mom.

Kristine Cushing's murder trial featured the now infamous "Prozac Defense"; she was found guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to a mental institution where she did a nickle, followed by a decade of intensive in-patient style psychiatric treatment.  She was discharged without restriction in 2005.

Meanwhile, John Cushing tried to put the pieces of his life back together.  He married Trisha Conlon, with whom he had two sons.  Sadly yet predictably, the couple divorced in 2004.  Mr. Cushing's next "life-choice" was to re-marry his first wife, Kristine Cushing, the now-excused infanticidal murderess.

Today, Lt. Col. Cushing (retired) lives on Vashon Island, WA with a split-custody arrangement whereby one of his sons lives with him; the other lives with Ms. Conlon.  The brothers reunite during holidays and vacations.  Under this custody arrangement, Conlon eventually became aware that her ex-spouse not only re-married his first wife, but also shared a marital home with her and Conlon's son.

This information was difficult to come by as Mr. Cushing attempted to conceal his family arrangements.  The distance between the two parents provided the necessary cover.  Ms. Conlon, now living in Oregon, resorted to her family law attorney and his private investigator.

Seeking a change in custody to place her son into her home, Conlon brought proof of the Cushing reunification to the attention of the family court in King County, Washington (Seattle), arguing the arrangement was a "change in circumstance" detrimental to her son's best interests.  She lost her case last month; a hearing on appeal is set for next week.

This case is a testament to the lengths people will go in the name of love, marriage, and progenitorship. Many, perhaps most of us, would not make the same decision as the Lt. Col. in this case; infanticide is just a flat-out "deal-breaker".  On the other hand, imagine the love and forgiveness Cushing must have for his first wife to be able to take such a risk.

To the extent that his decision has placed his son in harm's path, it will be up to a family court judge of the King County Superior Court in Seattle to determine what is best for the boy under its jurisdiction.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Cooley Law Alumni Sues Alma Mater in Class Action Suit

A class action law suit was filed against the Cooley Law School this week in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.  In addition to legal counsel from Gotham, attorney Steve Hyder from Monroe, MI, himself a Cooley graduate, is local counsel on the suit.

The 45-page complaint reads like an indictment on the issue of student loans versus available law jobs in this protracted economic downturn.  The complaint alleges that Cooley intentionally uses false statistics (i.e. graduate employment rates and graduates' salaries) to lure and retain prospective law students .

The New York law firm handling the heavy lifting in the suit, Kurzon Strauss, is also suing the New York Law School on nearly identical grounds, but in state court.  Each suit seeks hundreds of millions in tuition refunds from the respective law schools.

Last month, Kurzon Strauss was on the receiving end of a law suit filed by Cooley, alleging defamation.  The firm had been trolling around Craigslist and Facebook soliciting candidates for its class action suit.  Understandably, Cooley wanted to get the drop on the firm and steal the negative publicity thunder such a suit would generate.  Always the publicity gurus over there at Cooley.

Cooley will probably use the same law firm on defense as they do on offense; Miller Canfield.  One way or another, this litigation will siphon-off some of Cooley's rich profits as they continue to tap deeply into the American Dream, lawyer-style.

August 2013 Post Script: Now, several years later, the US District Court dismissed the Cooley alumni law suit and in granting the FRCP 12(b)(6) motion, District Judge Gordon Quist was not kind to Cooley's self-serving rankings, characterizing the behemoth as a bottom dweller.  Judge Quist's opinion is here.

www.clarkstonlegal.com



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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Vote for the Law Blogger in the ABA's Top 100

This is the 5th year the ABA Journal has conducted an on-line poll to determine the best law blogs out there in Cyber-Space.  If you like our law blog, please vote for us by clicking here

The Amici form required to register your vote can be anonymous and only takes a minute.  Non-lawyers can vote for this blog.

The scope of content covered by the ABA's top 100 blogs is truly amazing.  One of the best features of such a poll is the diverse legal specialties that come into focus.  Niche areas such as intellectual property, patents, tax law, Internet law, and estate planning are ideal for blog coverage.  The attorneys that administer blogs in these areas are specialists devoted to the development of their respective niches.

Our blog, on the other hand, reflects matters of more general interest to lawyers and consumers of legal services in Michigan.  This is consistent with our firm's general practice in areas of divorce, criminal defense, and probate law.

By drilling into the ABA Journal's website, you can get an idea of the subject matter covered in the law blogs honored by this Top-100 contest. 

As a long-standing member of the ABA, this blogger was recently provided with several complimentary annual membership cupons.  I still have a few left.  If you are a Michigan lawyer with a P-number greater than 65000, send me an email with your contact information.  Interested attorneys must act quickly as these cupons expire in a few weeks.

info@clarkstonlegal.com

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fab Five Continues to Disappoint UM Fans

For all their hype, the men behind the Fab Five continue to disappoint fans, supporters and alumni of the University of Michigan.

First it was Chris Webber's phantom time-out vs North Carolina in the 1993 Final Four game.  Then the premature abandonment of the University of Michigan Basketball Program by the headliners of the group, Webber and Jalen Rose.  Next, the final four banners were removed from Chrysler Arena due to the Ed Martin booster scandal.

This month, it's two criminal convictions right here in Oakland County; one for Jalen Rose, who's doing 20-days in the Oakland County Jail on a sentence from 48th District Judge Kim Small; the other is for charges of felony child support against Jimmy King.  According to the Michigan Attorney General, King owes nearly $18,000 in child support arrears.  He was arrested in Detroit.

Both men are currently detained in the OCJ.

Attorney General Bill Schuette was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, "when it comes to child support, no matter who you are, you have to play by the rules."

It's a shame that these men have never played by the rules; it's a shame that they continue to cast a pall over the University of Michigan.

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Ex-Spouse Takes Out Divorce Angst on his Blog

Boy, would I welcome the chance to write this appeal.

A family court judge in Bucks County, Pennsylvania has enjoined divorcee Anthony Morelli from operating his web site devoted to his ex-wife; thepsychoexwife.

Judge Diane Gibbons based her decision on grounds the Father's blog, which details his failed marriage, his tortuous divorce process, and its protracted custody battle, is harming his young children.  In fact, the blog does a hatchet job on his ex.

Morelli says the blog is a forum where he can help others "minimize conflict" and connect to share stories. He would like us to think of his blog as a kumbaya community where divorced men can rip their ex-wives with impunity.  Touching, for real.

His lawyers have appealed Judge Gibblons' injunction claiming it is an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of Morelli's First Amendment right to free speech.

For her part, Morelli's ex-wife says their children know about the blog, which is a shame.

Since he started the blog back in 2007, it has attracted a robust readership of nearly 200,000 new followers per month.  At one point, Morelli was earning money from third-party advertisements on the blog.

We'd love to cultivate that type of readership over here at the Law Blogger; figures that such a negative energy factory would do so well.

Prior restraint of free speech, however, is a serious problem in this case.  Judges, even family court judges, cannot restrain our free speech.  A blog is one of the most common contemporary media designed to amplify freedom of expression.  If a blogger lacks taste and restraint, should a local judge act as a censor?

Judge Gibbons' injunction in the Morelli case will undoubtedly be reversed on appeal.

Do you think family court judges should be able to regulate the content of a party's speech in a high-conflict divorce proceeding?  Where would you draw the line; threats? abusive commentary?

We would like to know what you think on this issue...

www.clarkstonlegal.com

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

150 Posts & Counting; Thank You Readers!

Since March 2009, we here at the LawBlogger have had the distinct privilege of posting law-related content via the Oakland Press in Pontiac, MI.  It has been a great relationship.

Over the past two and a half years, we have posted 150 times to this blog, attracting over 40,000 page views.  Very small by national standards, but we're proud of our readership.

On a daily basis, we know that many of our readers scan and absorb fresh content by:
  • checking their email(s);
  • perusing their news feeds;
  • browsing several on-line newspapers and trade publications;
  • surfing their social media feeds; 
  • actually reading a home-delivered newspaper (old school); and
  • occasionally watching news on television or the Internet.
We also know that our readers only have a brief moment to read our posts, so we try to make that moment count.

Going over some of our first posts was painful; the posts were soooo long, laden with detailed links.  When we first started blogging, I think we tried to publish a law review article in each post.

As a result, no one read past the first 3 paragraphs and we were only able to produce one or two posts a month.  That is no way to develop a readership.

When blogging, less is more.  Get to the point; stick to the point.

Thanks to our readers that have hung in there over the years.  We appreciate your feedback and comments.  Please keep them coming.  For our part, we will continue to deliver frequent relevant law-related content for your perusal.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Anti-Shariah Movement

There is a growing movement afoot in the United States and Western Europe to arrest the perceived expansion of Islamic Law; also known as Shariah Law.  As the Anti-Shariah movement gains momentum here in the US, it is bumping up against the "free speech" clause of our First Amendment.

Sharia, the Islamic code that guides a Muslim's beliefs and conduct, is increasingly viewed by some legislators as a legal system that seeks world domination.  This fear has been attached to Islam for centuries.

The most vocal leader of the contemporary Anti-Shariah movement, David Yerushelmi, was profiled on the front page of last Sunday's NYT.  An attorney in New York and a Hasidic Jew, Mr. Yerushelmi has aligned himself with a phalanx of conservative think tanks while making a national mark as an expert on Shariah.  His recent accomplishments include drafting model Anti-Shariah legislation and filing lawsuits against the government that cite Shariah as, "one of the greatest threats to American freedom since the cold war," according to the NYT.

His warning is being echoed on the floor of statehouses throughout the country.  The actual extent of this perceived threat is highly debatable.

Should U.S. Courts ever defer to religious tribunals?  It happens more than you may realize. 

For example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans upheld an arbitration award handed down by the Institute for Christian Conciliation.  Also, state courts have long upheld decisions made in Jewish courts known as a bet din.  Even Islamic courts, particularly in the area of family law, receive some "faith and credit" in state courts (if not full faith and credit).

 Particularly in the area of family law, there is an academic perception that religious women are often pressured by spouse and family into arbitrating in religious tribunals.  A problem arises when these tribunals then disregard principles of basic equity, fairness and even constitutional protections.

Recent state appellate decisions, one from New Jersey and one from Maryland, provide a fascinating insight into the issue of Shariah Law now confronting state court judges on an frequent basis.

Some state legislatures are drafting bills that would prohibit state court judges, particularly family court judges, from any consideration of the Shariah; all litigants would be bound by applicable state laws.

Perhaps this would be best.  We are, after all, in America, are we not?

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