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, January 26, 2018

Judges and the Media

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina
This post addresses the intersection between the judicial branch and the fourth estate. As lawyers practicing in the trenches of the courtrooms in Michigan, we here at the Law Blogger appreciate judges that eschew the media rather than bask in the glow of its camera lights.

That's why we were taken back by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina's recent commentary from the bench at the conclusion of Larry Nassar's epochal sentencing hearing. Judges must be impartial and Judge Aquilina probably crossed the line between impartial jurist and victim's advocate in the Nassar case.

The Ingham County Circuit Judge told Nassar that she was "honored and privileged" to sentence him; that she "signed his death warrant"; and that if our Constitution did not proscribe "cruel and unusual punishment", she would allow "people to do to him what he did to others." She also referred to Nassar's legion of victims as "sister survivors", many of whom were allowed to speak during the sentencing hearing, without being listed as complaining witnesses in the charging instrument.

Um, we don't have the death penalty here in Michigan judge. And, could you please stop handing-out appellate issues as if they were candy.

Judge Aquilina succumbed to a classic courtroom sketch. An evil villain is convicted of heinous crimes and the sentencing judge chooses colorful words and phrases designed to fit into media sound-bites.

Although a very human way to react to a horrible situation, the principle of judicial impartiality is bedrock and must be sacrosanct regardless of the media attention surrounding a particular case.

We can already smell the political possibilities flowing from this case: Judge Aquilina for Michigan Supreme Court? Somewhere along the line, Judge Aquilina assured the media that this criminal proceeding was not about her. "The lady doth protest too much", we think over here at the Law Blogger.

We love to hear from our readers on these high-profile cases that point to the heart and soul of our justice system. Do you think the judge crossed the line with her comments in this case?


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Friday, January 5, 2018

Recreational and Medical Marijuana: The Empire Strikes Back

For the past 10-years, the marijuana legalization process has gained traction in the United States and other Western countries. Canada and California went legal last week; 8 states have legalized recreational use of marijuana; another 20 states have legalized medical marijuana.

Yesterday, however, the other shoe fell in Washington D.C., with the United States Attorney General reversing USDOJ policy and instructing United States Attorneys to begin prosecuting marijuana violations of the Controlled Substance Act. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' policy statement rescinds the Obama-era Cole memo; a memo that included a series of enforcement directives designed to leave policing marijuana dispensaries to the individual states.

AG Sessions' personal animus against pot is well known. He has gone on record saying that marijuana users are "not good people".

Sessions' pronouncement sends a fledgling billion dollar industry into an era of uncertainty. For the past decade, banks, insurance companies and capital investors took baby-steps into the massive marijuana industry; an industry that, until the past decade, operated solely within the Wild West of the black market.

This policy shift will chill the macro moves of the major industry players. The combined markets of California and Washington, both recreational use states, were expected to eclipse the revenue of the alcohol industry. That's some big money folks.

And because it's such big money, you can bet some of the money will be spent to deploy lobbyists in a full-court-press on Congress to, once-and-for-all, remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act. We here at the Law Blogger are not holding our breath, as this has been tried before, and the efforts, of both lobbyists and litigants, have failed.

Unfortunately for the marijuana industry, Congress' attitude toward marijuana seems influenced by the hubris of a failed 30-year "war on drugs" that involves a series of mutual prohibition treaties with many of our trading partners to the South. This attitude does not take into account that the ganja smuggler is a thing of the past; today high-quality pot is produced in a 2x2 closet with a grow lamp and some TLC.

Seriously, it is now time to end marijuana prohibition. Marijuana should be removed from Schedule 1 and placed into its own category; a category most-closely related to alcohol. Yes there are problems, health and otherwise, that arise from chronic marijuana use.

Prohibition, however, is not the answer. Regulate the weed; tax the revenue generated from weed; just stop the prohibition of the weed.

Post Script: Some U.S. Attorneys have made ominous statements promising aggressive prosecution for pot distributors, Massachusetts, while others, Colorado, have said they will not prosecute federal marijuana cases.

Post #613

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Driver's License Cannot Be Suspended For Non-Payment of Traffic Fines

A federal judge has enjoined the Michigan Secretary of State from suspending drivers' licenses for failure to pay fines related to traffic tickets; for now anyway.

As should be the case, Michigan takes driving privileges very seriously. If you neglect to pay fines here in Michigan, even traffic tickets, your license can be suspended as a matter of law.

United States Federal Judge Linda Parker disrupted the legal landscape in this regard, enjoining the State of Michigan from suspending drivers' licenses for the failure to pay traffic ticket fines. In a federal class action law suit, Judge Parker determined that the drivers were likely to prevail on the merits that their licenses were suspended without due process.

Plaintiffs in the class action law suit, two drivers from the Detroit area, claimed Michigan's fine and suspension scheme was fundamentally unfair against; that it essentially equated to a "debtor's prison", unevenly punishing low income drivers. Specifically, the drivers claimed the statutory scheme violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution.

Judge Parker ruled that drivers, at a minimum, are entitled to notice of an "ability-to-pay" hearing. In issuing her injunction against the state, she noted the significant interest people in Michigan have in maintaining a driver's license: the ability to get to and from work in a state that lacks an extensive public transportation system.

The current state of Michigan law as it relates to unpaid traffic citations, is that failure to pay 3 traffic tickets results in a license suspension. Legislation scheduled to take effect yesterday, increasing the number of unpaid tickets from 3 to 6, was rescinded by Governor Snyder; so the number of unpaid tickets that could result in losing your license remains at three.

When a driver's license is suspended, either through failure to pay traffic fines, or from an alcohol-related driving conviction, a "driver responsibility fee" is assessed that must be paid prior to re-issuance of the license. The amount of the fee depends on the underlying reason for the suspension. Although Michigan has maintained a robust fee structure to reinstate a driver's license, these fees are being phased-out by statute and will soon be eliminated.

In the drivers' class action law suit, the state asked the judge to stay her ruling so they could appeal her ruling, asserting that the judge tossed a proverbial "wrench" into the gears of a fast-churning machine.

Of course, with stakes this high, the Secretary of State immediately filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The appellate court did grant the state's request for a stay, but only for 30-days:
[t]he State argues that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to comply fully with the preliminary injunction in the immediate future. The injunction is broad in scope and provides very little direction as to what specific actions should be taken to comply with the constitutional due process requirements. Clearly, additional notice about the procedures available to persons facing license suspension is contemplated.
This limited stay was issued by the appellate court clerk; the full appeal will not be filed for several months.

The end-result in this case will be significant to both the drivers in our state, as well as the State of Michigan. We will monitor the case and report all of the significant developments.

Related Article: Federal judge eliminates bail for misdemeanors; click here.

Post #612

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