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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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dangerous Apps Teens Hide From Parents

If you really want to know how to manipulate the full power of a cell phone, consult with a teenager. Teens know more about apps than most adults ever will.

 A computing app, or application, is a self-contained program or piece of software designed to fulfill a particular purpose, especially as downloaded by the user of a mobile device. Today there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps, maybe more than a million.

A handful of these apps have a special utility for teenagers; special in a way that can be dangerous. While they are generally clueless about the dangers of attracting anonymous attention to themselves via these apps, teenagers are experts at utilizing technology to hide the existence of such apps

Here is a smattering of what is out there that teenagers are utilizing these days.

Yik Yak
This app has already caught our attention here at the Law Blogger. Yakkers post anonymous 200-character messages that are picked up by nearby fellow Yakkers. "Nearby" is determined by GPS. Because it is anonymous, the messages are often sexually explicit and abusive.

Originally known as "Bang with Friends" due to its Facebook connection, this app allows users to anonymously send love notes to the objects of their desire among their FB friends; they indicate whether they want a physical "hook-up" -what used to be known as a "one-night-stand"- or whether a more serious dating relationship is sought. The mechanics are explained through a series of FAQs posted on the app's home page.

On its home page, this app promises a great way to meet new friends, and states that they will select someone with whom the user can communicate, via video, texting, or instant messaging. Omegle's selection of the other person is based on the user's interests, as expressed through your FB likes or through selections available on the app. The theory is, rather than hook-up with a random stranger, at least you will be mingling with someone the same interests.

Touted as the best place to express yourself online due to a user's anonymity, this app invites its users to share anonymous secrets while displaying the general geographic vicinity of the user. Whisper was described in Forbes as a "mashup between Twitter and Snapchat". Among it millions of users, a significant portion of whom are teens, a common theme among the disclosed secrets are relationship troubles and eating disorders. The app displays confessions posted by people located with a mile or two radius of the user, just to get that local feel.

This app encourages you to "be yourself" by allowing users to speak freely to one another without names or profiles attached. Friends can like or love each others posts, anonymously, of course, and if the user allows, they can be shared nationwide. The mode of posting is through a "thought of the day" to which photos or backdrops can be added.

Then there are the apps designed to hide the apps that users do not want others, like parents, to know reside on their cell phones.

This iphone app is no longer available from the Apple store, but your teenager may have downloaded it when it was viable and may still be using it. Poof allows a user to identify target apps that become hidden on their cell phone.

This app allows the user to password protect certain apps that they do not want others to access on their cell phones. This Android app proclaims on its home page: hide pictures and videos; control what can be seen on your cell phone or tablet.

Hide it Pro
Similar to Vaulty, but this app is available for both Android and iPhones. The app is disguised as an audio manager made to look like it simply controls the audio for the phone. If a user presses and holds the app, it reveals a password-protected lock screen behind which photos and messages can be stored.

A survey conducted by McAfee software reveals that 70% of U.S. teenagers have hidden Internet content. 53% of teen users hide content by clearing their browsers while another 34% hide or delete the content.

The best way for you to monitor your teenager's cell phone use is to have open discussions of the dangers of certain apps. As you are the parent, and most often the one paying the cell phone bill, take an active role in examining the teenager's cell phone.

When all else fails, there are apps like phonesheriff to assist. Check them out and deploy if needed.

Good luck; it's a jungle out there.

Post #504

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Appointments Made to Oakland County Circuit Court

Honorable Hala Jarbou
When Oakland Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca was first elected in 2008, and assigned to a courtroom with a general docket, the Oakland County Prosecutor dispatched Hala Jarbou to manage the criminal case calls in that courtroom. Judge Gorcyca was greatly assisted in running efficient criminal calls each week due to assistant prosecutor Jarbou's style, presence and knowledge of the criminal law and its procedure.

During her stint as Judge Gorcyca's docket prosecutor, we here at the Law Blogger observed a prepared, knowledgeable and personable lawyer. Ms. Jarbou left the Oakland County Prosecutor's office several years ago to work the drug-crime prosecution unit in U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade's office in Detroit.

All of this bodes well for Governor Rick Snyder's appointments of Ms. Jarbou and Garan Lucow attorney Jeffrey Matis to fill the vacancies on the Oakland County Circuit Court. These individuals are already listed on the Oakland County Circuit Court's page of the judgepedia web site.

Judge Rudy Nichols retired after 25-years on the bench and Judge Colleen O'Brien recently was appointed by Governor Snyder to the Michigan Court of Appeals. When these vacancies open-up, the veteran judges have the option of moving into the general jurisdiction docket from the family court or vice versa.

Normally, we see the migration of judges from the family court to the general jurisdiction docket and suspect it is due to the burn-out that occurs among family court professionals.

Veteran Judge Cheryl Mathews has indicated her desire to leave the family court to take over Judge Nichols' docket. Whether Judge Gorcyca, also a veteran judge with seniority, will do likewise, and step into Judge O'Brien's docket remains to be seen as she has yet to make-up her mind on the issue.

Therefore, at least one of the new appointees will become a family court judge. Depending on Judge Gorcyca's final decision, both of the new judges could be seated on the family court.

For his part, Jeffery Mattis becomes one of the few civil litigators appointed to the Oakland County Circuit Court bench. We here at the Law Blogger always find it refreshing to have lawyers that tried cases become the newest judges on one of Michigan's most active courts.

Post #503

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Blind Draw for Family Court Judges

Mom and Dad Tsimhoni
Judges must be fair and impartial despite the intense family emotions that swirl about their case load. The judicial system depends on that bedrock principle.

When you file a case in one of the county family courts here in Michigan, the county clerk that processes the complaint utilizes a blind draw system to assign your judge. This means that litigants cannot select the judge assigned to their case.

Sometimes, family court litigants are viscerally dissatisfied with the judge assigned to their case, especially when the judge makes decisions adverse to their interests. In every case, the family court judge will upset one of the two parents embroiled in a custody or parenting battle.

Judges are required to remain neutral, unbiased finders of fact; these judges are charged with determining the best interests of the minor children in every case. From time to time, a parent believes that the judge has lost their impartiality and claims that their judge is personally invested in their case to the point of bias.

When these allegations surface, one option available to family court litigants is to file a motion to disqualify the judge. If a family court judge denies such a motion, then the offended litigant can file the motion with the chief judge of the circuit court.

Recently, this procedure played-out in the high-profile, high-conflict Tsimhoni divorce. The mother attempted to disqualify Judge Lisa Gorcyca after her three children spent their summer in Children's Village and at a court-ordered juvenile camp, and more-recently, after she lost custody of the children to her ex-husband.

After these adverse rulings, and after she changed lawyers for about the 10th time, mother filed the motion to DQ the judge, and Judge Gorcyca denied the requested relief, refusing to step down from the case. Among the thousands of cases on the open family court docket in Oakland County, this one stands-out due to mother's severe parental alienation against the father.

Mother's new lawyer filed an appeal with Oakland Circuit's Judge Nanci Grant, the chief judge of the court.

Now, as this parental alienation case blew-up in the national media because both parents refused to work together as co-parents, they tossed it into the lap of the Oakland County Family Court where Judge Nanci Grant has recused herself from hearing the appeal of mother's attempt to disqualify Judge Gorcyca.

This was a very strategic move by the veteran Oakland County chief judge. Now that she has recused herself, the case goes before the plenary court to determine whether any of the remaining judges wish to take the case.  We don't think there will be any takers.

If none of the judges on the Oakland County Circuit Court want this steaming pile of horse dung, it goes to the family court judges of an adjacent county like Wayne, Genesee or Macomb County Circuit Courts.

The parents now need to bury the hatchet and regain control of their family for the sake of their children.

One of the best kept secrets of the family court is that the judges are powerless if the parents agree on a plan going forward. If they cannot agree, then they judges have the power to control every aspect of of their family life.

It is exceedingly difficult and rare to successfully bring a motion to disqualify a judge. For the most part, family court litigants are stuck with the "luck-of-the-draw" where judicial case assignments are concerned.

Post #502

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

European Privacy Case Disturbs West Coast Tech Giants

A few years ago, a law student from Austria was seeking a topic for a paper when he came upon the little known area of personal data protection and the stringent privacy laws of the European Union. The student, Max Schrems, wondered whether the Big Data giants like Facebook and Google were obeying the privacy laws of the EU with regard to his personal information.

Schrems filed a case in the European Court of Justice and then another in Ireland, the country where Facebook is headquartered.

It turns out, a "safe harbor" existed that allowed the data companies to pretty much do as they wished with European's personal data. That is, until Schrems' case resulted in a victory for the Continental little guy.

Last week, the European Court of Justice ruled in Schrems' favor, invalidating the "safe harbor" under which American tech companies handled the personal data for European consumers. The case has now grabbed the attention of the tech giants, and of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, as it now has significant implications for the digital economy.

All of this points to the difference between the U.S. definition of privacy, especially the Silicon Valley definition of that term, and the European definition of privacy. In Europe, privacy is a fundamental right akin to the right to free speech; in the Valley, the notion is that once people log on to the Internet, it's "game on", and privacy goes out the window.

As we have become accustomed here in the States, Big Data companies, right or wrong, record every key stroke, transmitting consumers' most intimately personal data to companies on the sell. Where it comes to Trans-Atlantic data mining, however, the European laws -even if until now ignored- are far more stringent.

In Europe, the concept of privacy as a right has two components: first, the respect for private and family life is enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; and second, everyone in Europe has a right to the protection of personal data. This vital right to privacy has taken the form of robust government regulatory agencies that have just received a shot in the arm form the Court of Justice's decision in the Schrems case.

For their part, Big Data firms must now tussle with some of these old-school, old-world bureaucrats to see which way they will go on this issue. Apparently, the transfer of personal data across the Atlantic is big big business. Who knew.

We here at the Law Blogger find the case interesting to the extent that it points out the vast differences in privacy, as a right, between Europe and the West Coast.

Post #501

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Monday, October 12, 2015

500th Blog Post

In the nearly 7-years since we've been blogging here at the Law Blogger, we have garnered almost 400,000 page views. We reached the 400 post mark back in June 2014, so it has taken us over a year to produce the last 100 posts.

Since March 2009, this blog has attempted to bring relevant content to readers interested in the law and all things legal. As early adopters of law blogging, we have had the fantastic opportunity to blog on the platform of the Oakland Press; a newspaper that has successfully developed and implemented an impressive roster of blogs.

Law blogs have come and gone on the Oakland Press' blog roster; we were there at the outset and have outlasted them all. Our pledge in the next year is to produce the next hundred posts in less than a year; while still making them readable, interesting and relevant.

Thanks to all of our readers that have taken the time to read and weigh-in on our legal posts. We also very much appreciate the confidence the Oakland Press shows for our blog by continuing to carry us in their blog roster.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Distracted Driving Causing Death

As statistics, injuries and deaths mount, distracted driving is evolving from minor ordinance violation to misdemeanor and, in some cases, felony status. Hand-held devices and on-board computing, while very useful and powerful these days, distract drivers from their primary task: staying focused on the road at all times.

Operating a cell phone has been prohibited by the Motor Vehicle Code in Michigan since October 2013. The applicable language of the Code provides:
Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person shall not read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person's hand or in the person's lap, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state. As used in this subsection, a wireless 2-way communication device does not include a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the motor vehicle.
Statistics now reveal that as many as one in four vehicle accidents are caused by a distracted driver. There are many forms of distracted driving:
  • cell phone use of any kind; 
  • GPS input on vehicle dash or device;
  • tending to the vehicle console in any way, including changing a radio station;
  • hands-free interaction with the vehicle console;
  • eating;
  • reading documents; and
  • talking to passengers in a manner that takes your eyes from the road ahead.
Even for those not driving, but texting someone whom they know is driving a vehicle, contributes to this dangerous problem now being addressed by the law. Distracted driving is any activity that takes a driver's full-attention from the road ahead and places it somewhere else.

A case of distracted driving from St. Johns, near Lansing, caught our attention this past summer. A driver, distracted by using her cell phone, struck and killed a bicyclist.

Mitzi Nelson pled to a misdemeanor and the district judge fashioned an interesting sentence: she could not own or possess a cell phone during her two year probation; she did 90-days jail "up front"; and she was obligated to address 20 separate drivers education classes. A very light sentence for causing someone's death.

In Rock County, Minnesota, Chris Weber was driving his truck at night and decided to check his cell phone to see about paying his mortgage. While doing so, he struck and killed a mother of two on a bike; her two daughters were in a carrier attached to the bike.

Unlike Nelson's case here in Michigan, Weber was convicted of vehicular homicide, a felony in Minnesota. He did 120-days in jail; a relatively small price to pay. Now he is assisting the Minnesota State Patrol by making a video with the victim's husband.

For busy mobile folks living in a world of 24/7 connectivity, constant contact has become the standard. What better time to "catch up" or to knock-out that one email task or make that one call than while you are on the road between appointments.

We know all about it over here at the Law Blogger, as we are in 2 or 3 courts each day, driving all over Southeast Michigan on deadlines. Here are a few habits we ask our legal team to develop while on the road:
  1. When putting on your seat belt, make a conscious resolution each time that you will not answer your cell phone until you have reached your destination; 
  2. To that end, prior to pulling-out from your parking spot, check your phone for any messages, and send any messages that you need to send; 
  3. Likewise, make any calls you need to make prior to reaching your next destination; 
  4. If possible, leave enough time on both ends of your trip segment to complete the above tasks; 
  5. When a call comes in while you are on the road, ignore it because your life, and our lives, are more important.
  6. Do not text someone that you know is over the road.
It is the height of arrogance to believe that you are so busy, and that your schedule is so important, that you must tap into your phone, constantly, while on the road. Veteran drivers have been doing this, and getting away with it for years.

Statistics and circumstances, however, will eventually catch-up to such drivers. Just because a driver is busy does not mean the rest of us have to pay the price.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Conyers' High-Profile Yet Private Divorce

Last week, it caught our eye that Monica Conyers filed for divorce in the Wayne County Family Court. She is the wife of long-serving Congressman John Conyers, from Michigan's 13th District in Detroit.

Ms. Conyers went to federal prison several years ago on a bribery conviction that arose during her brief stint as President of the Detroit City Council; she was released from the joint in March 2013. Her tenure on the Detroit City Council was during the Kwame Kilpatrick sexting scandal.

Because Monica did time in a federal prison, and because John is the dean among Congressman in Washington D.C., having served his district since 1965, we figured a divorce would one day occur. According to the divorce lawyers, however, the couple is amicable and John would like to avoid the proceeding altogether if he could.

This divorce proceeding will be "high-profile" in name only; simply because of the status of the parties involved in the family court proceeding. There will be no high-powered tell-all in the divorce divorce judgment that concludes this matter at some point in 2016. This is because both parties, married since 1990, will seek to keep their business private.

Although the litigation process is a public one, there are ways that the substance of a divorce proceeding can remain private. Currently, there is an active debate among the family court bench and bar as to whether all family court records should be sealed.

When a high-asset or high-profile couple files for divorce, the lawyers use a private settlement agreement to keep the proceedings out of the public eye. While a judgment of divorce is required, and that document is public, the settlement agreement is not filed with the court and is kept private, functioning much like a contract.

If enforcement issues arise, the family court judge consults the terms of the settlement agreement, but the public does not get a look. This is usually the best manner to proceed.

The really sad part of this story is, just as the Congressman nears retirement at age 86, his wife is suing for divorce, apparently determined to end their marriage. Although Conyers filed a counter claim for divorce -standard procedure- he would like to remain married.

When one party to a marriage insists on getting divorced, it will occur regardless whether the other party resists.

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