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.
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Friday, March 28, 2014

International Street Artist Murdered in Detroit

Detroit Police are seeking anyone that knew the 23-year old international graffiti artist, Bilal Berreni, during his brief and fatal stay here in the 313.  The young VIP International was shot in the face at the long-abandoned Brewster-Douglass housing project on the East Side in July.

Until the DPD very recently discovered his identity, Berreni was just one among several unidentified corpses kept on ice at the Wayne County Morgue. The police were able to piece together the few available clues to identify the street artist from Paris.

At the time of his death, Berreni had survived refugee camps along the border of Libya; revolutionary Tunisia; he ran the streets of Paris his whole life; he roamed the lawless cities of Eastern Europe, covering abandoned concrete with black and white paint wherever he went; he flopped around Gotham in the summer of 2012; he was even arrested in Ohio.

St. Antoine St., here in the 313, however, was the end of the road for Berreni, described as an up and coming icon in the world of street art.  His works were profiled in Le Monde in 2011.

Berreni's father described his son as an enlightened artist, perhaps belonging to another century; he had a nose for the revolution in the air around Northern Africa in 2010; his father told the Freep that his son, "was not afraid of danger."  His father said he came to Detroit because he was interested in the creation that arises out of chaos.

Well, there's danger, and there's chaos...and there's the 313.  It's a real shame, but not all that surprising that a young international luminary had to be gunned down here in the D, and left to rot like trash.

Kudos to the DPD for tracking down the identity and the story behind this unfortunate artist.  Hopefully, they find his killer(s).

Perhaps someday, something good will emerge from the danger and chaos of Detroit.  As this young unfortunate artist's death tells us, however, that day is still a long long way off.

Post Script: November 22, 2014: per the Detroit News.  Four Detroit gang youths are charged with the street artist's killing.  Preliminary exams are being scheduled in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and the victim's family is expected to fly in to face their son's killers.

September 15, 2015 Post Script: Two of the four young Detroiters charged in Bilal's murder have pled guilty. Another, Dionte Travis, went to trial as an accessory; a "look-out". That trial ended in a mistrial when the jury could not come to an unanimous verdict. A new trial has been scheduled for early next year.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Michigan's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Ruled Unconstitutional

Michigan's first couple
with their lawyer.
United States District Court Judge Bernard Friedman, in a historic ruling, not only held that Michigan's ban on same-sex marriages, set forth in our state constitution, violates the U.S. Constitution, he also refused to stay his ruling.  This means that marriage licenses are being issued here in Oakland County and across the state as this post is being composed.

Citing United States v Windsor, the federal court ruled that Article I, section 25 of Michigan's Constitution violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment's Due Process clause.  Judge Friedman concluded his 30-page opinion in very plain terms:
In attempting to define this case as a challenge to the 'will of the people', state defendants lost sight of what this case is really about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples. It is the Court's fervent hope that these children will grow up, 'to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their communities and in their daily lives.' [quoting SCOTUS language from Windsor]
Because Judge Friedman refused to stay the effect of his ruling to accommodate an appeal from the state defendants, the Michigan Attorney General filed an emergency motion for a stay with the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Look for Judge Friedman's ruling to be appealed and consolidated with other similar federal court rulings on same-sex marriages currently pending throughout the Sixth Circuit [Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee].

Meanwhile, however, game on!  Before the press even got hold of the DeBoer opinion and order, county clerks in Ingham, Oakland, Washtenaw and Muskegon announced Saturday hours for the express purpose of issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

According to the Freep, the first official same-sex marriage took place shortly after 8:00 am today in the lobby of the historic Mason courthouse.

Update: Sunday, 03/22/2014.  Not so fast.  In an apparent reverse of their earlier indication that they were not planning to interfere with Michigan's federal same-sex marriage case, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay until this Wednesday, "to allow a more reasoned consideration of the [Michigan Attorney General's] motion to stay.". This means that no more same-sex marriage licenses can be issued by the county clerks until the federal appellate court lifts the stay.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Colorado's Prison Director Goes Solitary To Prompt Reform

By:  Timothy P. Flynn

One year ago today, a released inmate from the Colorado prison system stalked Tom Clements, the executive director of prisons, and shot him dead at point blank range in the front door of his home.  His replacement, Rick Raemisch, a former deputy sheriff and prosecutor from Wisconsin, has been on the job for only 7-months but has been making headlines for his progressive tactics.

Troubled like his predecessor was by the overuse of solitary confinement by prison administrators, Director Raemisch brought attention to the problem by doing a brief stint in solitary himself, and writing about his experience in a NYT Op Ed.  Colorado's new executive director of prisons was deeply troubled by Clemens' murder; he is also concerned that 97% of all inmates will one day be released into "the world".

As he explained in his Op Ed piece, Raemisch was charged by Colorado's Governor to address three prison objectives: a) eliminate administrative segregation for the mentally ill; b) address the problem of protracted assignment to solitary confinement [the Colorado average is 23-months @ 22-hours per day in the cell]; and c) avoiding release of inmates into the world directly from administrative segregation.

Colorado's prisons, like here in Michigan, New York and many other states, have become a dumping ground for the mentally ill.  In his Op Ed piece, Director Raemisch ruminates about his 20-hour stint in Ad Seg:
 First thing you notice is it's anything but quiet.  You're immersed in a drone of garbled noise- other inmates' blaring tvs, distant conversations, shouted arguments.  I couldn't make sense of any of it, and was left twitchy and paranoid.  I kept waiting for the lights to turn off to signal the end of the day.  But the lights did not shut off.  I began to count the small holes carved in the walls.  Tiny grooves made by inmates who'd chip away at the cell as the cell chipped away at them.
Director Raemisch's point: solitary confinement, daunting even for a sound mind, has become a dumping ground for America's mentally ill; the "worst-of-the-worst".  Ironically, the gang member that shot Mr. Clements was a direct release from the Ad Seg unit of one of Colorado's prisons.

While Director Raemisch recognizes that inmates placed in Ad Seg units have committed serious crimes, often while in prison, he does not have a specific solution to the problem of the overuse of solitary confinement other than to administratively reduce the numbers, as his predecessor was in the process of doing.

Prison administrators use Ad Seg to control short-term problems.  But Director Raemisch is looking to the long game: he strives to reduce the number of direct releases from Ad Seg back to the world.

America has one of the highest proportions of incarcerated people in the world.  Therefore, unless the entire population of prison inmates is reduced, it is a very worthy goal to aid the inmates' reentry to society so that our societal cost of recidivism is also reduced.

It is obvious to us here at the Law Blogger that overuse of solitary confinement does not serve that end.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Federal Same Sex-Marriage Trial Reaches Closing Arguments

Judge Bernard Friedman
Sorting through the experts
This morning, closing arguments are scheduled in the same-sex marriage trial over which U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has presided the past two weeks.  Judge Friedman, having denied cross motions for summary judgment in the case, gets to decide the constitutionality of two Michigan statutes: the ban on same-sex marriage [approved by a 57% voter initiative in 2004], and the prohibition of gay adoptions.

The trial began with the testimony of Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown; she indicated that she is prepared to "follow the law"
which, depending on how Judge Friedman rules, may include issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  [Note: the Law Blogger has been tracking this issue in other states like New Mexico where county clerks have been issuing such marriage licenses on the heels of post-Windsor federal court rulings striking state law bans on gay marriage.]

Brown, also a defendant in the case, has made her personal views known: she believes that gay couples are denied marriage licenses unfairly.  She testified about a state-wide memo issued by the Michigan Attorney General last fall to Michigan's 82 county clerks instructing them not to issues such licenses, regardless of how Judge Friedman decided the DeBoer case.

Other than the one county clerk, the trial has consisted of a parade of expert witnesses.  Select sociologists, professors and legal experts all had their moments to shine during the trial.  While this has been a quick trial, we here at the Law Blogger wonder whether these experts have aided the trier of fact in deciding the case, or whether they have polluted Judge Friedman's courtroom with junk science.

For their part, experts for the gay parents have attempted to blackboard data in support of their equal protection claim that children raised by gay parents have measurable outcomes on a par with traditional parents.  The Plaintiffs' experts have also drawn parallels with interracial families, concluding that Michigan should join what these experts depict as a strong trend toward social acceptance of gay marriages.

Experts for the state, on the other hand, painted a consensus that no reliable sociological data yet exists to support the Plaintiff's case; they also contend that traditional families, with a Mom and Dad, have the best child outcomes, citing to statistical reports they say support this conclusion.

Finding his testimony would, "add nothing to the case", Judge Friedman disqualified the state's first expert, Catholic philosopher and author Sherif Gergis.   Then there was the state's final expert, Canadian economist Douglas Allen; he testified, unequivocally, that unrepentant gay couples faced eternal damnation.

Is Judge Friedman now better informed?  Or does he have to digest a full-plate of junk science, with religious seasoning?

Soon, we'll all know whether Michigan's anti-gay statutes will pass constitutional muster; at least at the initial trial stage.  Then its on to the appeals, where the DeBoer case will be consolidated with other similar cases percolating through the Sixth Circuit here in Michigan, and in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Senate Bill Restricts Medical Marijuana Use

Michigan Senator Rick Jones' bill passed the Senate on Tuesday that will restrict the use of medical marijuana by proscribing it in all public venues, and allows a property owner to prohibit any otherwise legal use of marijuana on his property.  If the bill passes the House, then Michigan's Medical Marijuana Act, passed via voter initiative back in 2008, will be amended by the restrictions.

A close reading of the original act shows that smoking pot has been prohibited in public places all along. Jones' bill clarifies the term "public" by expanding the definition to include private property that is open to the public, i.e. like a restaurant, store or amusement park.

The more onerous restriction, however, comes in the form of granting landlords the power to prohibit medical marijuana use when the restriction is written into the lease.  In discussing his bill with the media last month, Senator Jones described complaints he received from constituents whose rental properties were ruined by pot-growing tenants.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall of the senate chamber, the pro-pot caucus proposed tie-barring Jones' bill to a bill languishing in the House that would legalize edible marijuana [think pot brownies]; something that was recently outlawed by the Michigan Court of Appeals as being outside the scope of the MMA.

The plenary Senate wasn't having it, and Jones' bill passed with the "super-majority" needed to amend voter-initiated legislation like the MMA.  This bill could get legs in the House and become law by this summer.

So here is a shout-out to all you medical marijuana patients out there: if you are going to medicate, then you may need to own your home.  Otherwise, you may have no where to go to [legally] smoke your pot.

We here at the Law Blogger do not see too many tears being shed over these restrictions.  But we would expect that, should this bill become law, it will sustain marijuana's criminalization enough to keep the criminal defense bar happy for some time to come.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Oakland County Circuit Court's Best Kept Secret

Normally, an open seat on the Oakland County Circuit Court garners lots of attention among members of the local bar.  As litigators, we appear in front of the judges, day in, day out, so who is running for an open seat is usually big news.

April 22, 2014, is the filing deadline for an open seat on the Oakland County Circuit Court.  To date, while no one has filed the requisite 5000 signatures to become an official candidate, it is well-known that Lisa Langton, a deputy court administrator and wife of news personality Charlie Langton, is expected to make her candidacy official prior to the filing deadline in late April.  So far, however, she stands alone.

We here at the Law Blogger, finding the lack of interest and the dearth of candidates unusual, decided to check with some of our connected peeps.  No one knows for sure, but the consensus is that some wanna-be judges are lurking out there in the weeds, waiting for the deadline to come closer before announcing their candidacies via well-timed press conferences.  We shall see.

Otherwise, Ms. Langton stands to waltz into a seat that normally costs the successful candidate nearly a quarter million dolllars and a pound of flesh.  To become a judge in this town, a lawyer must survive an absolute cage-match primary campaign featuring a dozen of the usual suspects [assistant prosecutors, well-funded big law attorneys, politically backed lawyers], and then be the last one standing following a bruising general election.

According to a recent article in the Oakland Press following Ms. Langton's press release announcing her candidacy, she has endorsements from Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and from the retired judge whose seat was temporarily mothballed after his retirement in 2010, Jack McDonald.  This blogger has also heard that Langton hired old-school strategist Al Holtz; when you hire Al, you're dead serious.

This open seat on the Oakland Circuit bench is designated as a non-incumbent position and is for an 8-year term in the family court division.  The November 2012 judicial election taught us that once elected, an Oakland County judgeship is akin to a lifetime federal appointment; bullet-proof.

We here at the Law Blogger will monitor the Oakland County Clerk's unofficial candidate list as the deadline approaches.  Let's see who among us lawyers are of a judicial mindset.

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