Sunday, September 15, 2013

Michigan State Bar to push for disclosure in issue campaign ads

Look for a big push by the Michigan State Bar Association to require 501(c)’s to disclose their donors when running “issue ads” in judicial campaigns, ads that often in reality become attack ads, most notably in state Supreme Court races.

State Bar President Bruce Courtade appeared on Tim Skubick’s “Off the Record” PBS-TV show Sunday morning and said the Bar will ask Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to alter a rule and require the disclose.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Courtade told the panel. “It’s that important.”

Courtade said the number of these issue ads has increased significantly over the past 10 years. He said voters should know who is behind the ads that often either attack or praise one of the candidates, or a slate of candidates.

He said the donation process should be all open.

Skubick pressed him on requiring attorneys to disclose a donation to a judge when appearing before a case, but Courtade didn’t favor that. He said the donations are reportedly publicly already, implying that an opposing attorney has access to that information.

Courtade implied that if Johnson doesn’t change the rule, the Bar will pursue the matter another way, possibly in the courts.

Courtade said he also would like to see Michigan change its nomination process of Supreme Court justices, who are nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties. He said having political parties nominate candidates in a nonpartisan race sends “mixed messages.” He said he hasn’t decided on the alternative.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Advice on appearing in front of the Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court this week released a handbook to guide attorneys on how to prepare and argue their cases when they have to travel to Lansing to argue in front of the highest court in the state.

The 13-page book, “Guide for Counsel in Cases to Be Argued in the Michigan Supreme Court,” address topics such as preparation for oral argument, filing, brief-writing, oral argument procedures, and more, according to a press release issued through spokeswoman Marcia McBrien.

It is especially designed for those making their first appearance before the court. The guide includes general information plus a directory of offices and programs.

As I non-attorney writer, I was interested in the brief-preparation section. So here’s a short excerpt from that section:

“When preparing your brief, understand your audience. The Justices and their law clerks are generalists. Your brief should educate as well as inform. Give the Court the ‘big picture’ of the applicable area of the law and explain how your case fits within that area. Draw the Court a road map of how you expect it to get from point A to point B. Do prior Court of Appeals or Supreme Court cases need to be overruled? Does the common law need to be changed? If so, state this clearly.”

The guide was compiled by Supreme Court staff with extensive input from Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch.

It is available at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ex judge Barry Howard receives Hilda Gage award

The Michigan Judges Association (“MJA”) announced that the Hon. Barry L. Howard, formerly of the 6th Circuit Court in Oakland County, is the recipient of its 2013 Judicial Excellence Award, named after the late Hilda Gage.

The award recognizes those who have excelled in trial and docket management, legal scholarship, and contributions to the profession and the community.  The award honors current or former judges who serve their profession and their communities with integrity, skill, and courage every day.

Barry Howard is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit School of Law.  He served as a circuit judge for the Oakland County court from 1989 to 2001, serving as its chief judge from January 2000 to April 2001. During that time, he taught for the Michigan Judicial Institute, and served the Michigan Judges Association as a board member and as its President.

Judge Howard has continued his service to the profession and the judiciary after he left the bench. He was co-chair of the Judicial Crossroads Task Force.  He is currently Of Counsel to the law firm of Lipson, Neilson, Cole, Seltzer & Garin, PC.

Barry Howard is a former recipient of the Champion of Justice Award by the State Bar of Michigan. In 1995, he was named “one of the top five most respected judges” in the state in a survey of lawyers conducted for WDIV-Channel 4. Western Michigan University named its Barry L. Howard Medallion Scholarship after him.

It gives the Michigan Judges Association great pleasure to present the 2013 Hilda Gage Award for Judicial Excellence to give this award to Barry L. Howard.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Federal judge takes advice from colleagues

A federal judge surprised me last week when he said that he and other federal judges review each others' cases and indicate the sentence they would issue.
I’ve never heard a judge say that, or even heard of a judge doing that.
Judge Arthur Tarnow in Detroit admitted as much from the bench last Wednesday in the sentencing of Gregory Austin for production of child pornography. Tarnow went below the sentencing guideline range of roughly 27 to 34 years in sentencing Austin to 15 years, the mandatory minimum established by Congress.
During comments from the bench, he revealed that other judges (I don’t recall if he said how many other judges reviewed the case but he seemed to infer it was a couple of fellow jurists) agreed 15 years was not only sufficient for Austin’s actions, but actually is a pretty harsh sentence.
“Fifteen years – they concluded in their experience that is a severe sentence” for that crime, a longer term than someone receives for manslaughter.
He seemed to indicate he would have gone below 15 years if he could have but didn’t want to “second guess Congress.”
“Congress has decided it is a very serious offense,” he said.
Austin’s behavior involved “catfishing,” tricking males aged 14 to 17 into sending him images of their genital via Facebook by posing as a sexy girl, “Julie.”
Making Austin’s actions particularly revolting was that he was a school teacher and preyed on former students he taught in elementary school.
Judge Tarnow pointed out Austin’s action will impact the victims the rest of their lives. It’s not clear whether Austin shared the images online, but the victims have to worry that he did.
I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with a judge seeking advice from colleagues on the bench, as long as the advisory judge has all the facts. But I wonder how common that is.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Scammer can't pull fast one on reporter

Even though I'm a fan of the Philippines and its people, that appreciation couldn't blind this courthouse reporter's judgment in recognizing a scam.

Below is a short series of emails I exchanged with someone from the Philippines who somehow got an email of an acquaintance and posed as that acquaintance, of course not realizing that I'm not a friend with that person, just a mere contact through work. Notice the typos and poor grammar. Obviously a scam:


I am sorry for reaching you rather too late due to the situation of things right now.My family and I had a trip visiting Manila Philippines,everything was going on fine until last night when we got attacked by some unknown gunmen. All our money,phones and credit cards was stolen away including some valuable items, It was a terrible experience but the good thing is that they didn't hurt anyone or made away with our passports. 

        We have reported the incident to the local authorities and the consulate but their response was too casual, we were ask to come back in 2 weeks time for investigations to be made proper,But the truth is we can't wait till then as we have just got our return flight booked and is leaving in few hours from now but presently having problems sorting out our  bills here and also getting a cab down to the airport, Right now we're financially strapped due to the unexpected robbery attack, Wondering if you can help us with a quick loan to sort out our bills and get back home. All we need is (3,000 $)  I promise to refund you in full as soon as I return home hopefully tomorrow or next. write back now to let me know what you can do.

Thank You.


I responded with two emails:

"I know I’m late responding. I hope everything is OK now.
Where should I send the money?"

 The scammers response:
"Glad to hear from you, We have nothing left on us right now and we are lucky to have our Life and passport with us it would have been worst if they had made away with my passports.

Well,All we need is $3.000  Dollars. to sort out the hotel bills,you can have it wire to my name via any Western Union outlet I'll show my passport as ID to pick it up here,I promise to refund it back as soon as we arrive back home. Here's the info you need:

Name:- John (last name withheld)
Address: 28 Simon Street Manila
Country: Philippine
Amount :$3.000  Dollars.

As soon as it has been done, kindly get back to me with the MTCN confirmation number.Let me know if you are heading to a western union outlet now..

I owe you a Lot.


My response:

"Please send me $300 as a show of good faith and I’ll return $3,300 to you."

It's no surprise that I haven't heard back from my "friend" on the other side of the world.