Sunday, September 30, 2012

National plug for Andiamo, Warren

Watching the “Late Night with David Letterman” show on TV on Friday night (yes, my life is that boring), I was startled to hear the city of Warren and Andiamo’s suddenly thrown into the spotlight.
Letterman introduces his first guest, Regis Philbin, adding that Regis will appear Oct. 25 and 26 at "the Andiamo Celebrity Showroom in Warren, Michigan,” which generates some audience laughter after a comedic pause by Letterman.
“There’s nothing wrong with that gig, OK?” Letterman tells the crowd in his trademark sarcastic tone, drawing more laughter.
Regis enters the stage, sits down and the first thing he says is, “Did I hear snickers after you said, ‘The Andiamo’s?’”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Letterman replies.
“Don’t fool with those guys,” Regis mockingly cautions.
“What guys?” Letterman says.
“Andiamo guys,” Regis answers.
“What does that mean exactly?” Letterman cracks.
“It’s a great showplace,” Regis counters.
“And Warren, Michigan?” Letterman says.
Regis answers, “You see, it’s not in Detroit. It’s just outside of Detroit.”
“All roads lead to Warren,” Letterman concludes, and the pair move on to a new topic.
Andiamo owner Joe Vicari can't be displeased with that free national attention.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Brumbaugh gets to the jury box

Macomb County’s chief legal counsel,  George Brumbaugh, almost got picked for a jury for a big criminal trial only a quick walk from his office in downtown Mount Clemens.
Brumbaugh said he “made it to the box,” referring to the jury box, for the trial of Stanley and Vita Duncan, who are accused of criminal sexual conduct related to the day-care center they ran in Fraser, a case I’m following for The Macomb Daily.
The judge, Matthew Switalski, coincidentally served as Brumbaugh’s law clerk years ago.
During questioning of potential jurors in the crowded courtroom last week, Switalski slyly asked Brumbaugh, “Who was the best law clerk you ever had?”
Brumbaugh said he hesitated, feigned conflicted consideration. “I don’t know, maybe you, judge,” he recounted with a laugh.
“It was all in levity,” he said.
Stanley Duncan’s attorney, Timothy Barkovic, requested a sidebar discussion among the lawyers and judge, and Brumbaugh was removed from the jury pool.
Brumbaugh has known Barkovic for 30 years, but likely the main reason he was let go was because defense attorneys and prosecutors don’t like to have an attorney on a jury because he or she likely would wield too much influence as other members would look to them.
Brumbaugh said he wouldn’t mind to have sat on the jury and would have been able to fairly consider whether the defendants are guilty or not.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Remembering Ron Goldstein

The passing of Ronald Goldstein last week brought a frown to my heart but also a smile as I remembered my many interactions with him since I began covering courts seven years ago.
Ron, who was 81, was a fixture at the Macomb County courthouse as a criminal defense lawyer, handling some of the most serious cases over recent decades. He was a no-nonsense guy who realized the evil nature of some of his clients but nonetheless fought the prosecution as hard as he could. Like many defense attorneys, he believed it was his job to make sure government lawyers and police did their job properly, and everyone deserves a fair day in court.
He was known for his integrity and directness, and often offered a quip about his case.
He wasn’t into "the drama" but did provide a couple of the most dramatic courthouse scenes over the years. In 1988, he suffered a heart attack a courthouse hallway while waiting out deliberations in a rape case, causing a stir. And a few years ago, he collapsed to the courtroom floor during a sentencing hearing . A diabetic, he had passed out from low sugar. A piece of candy revived him. But I was there to witness it, and it was scary for the first few minutes.
Ron also was known as a poker player and organizer of a monthly game among lawyers for many years, going well back into the 1990s. I was fortunate to be invited to play by Ron a few times in recent years, and Ron was a good poker player, fun to play with.
But what I didn’t know that his son-in-law told me was that Ron always placed his poker winnings in a big jar at his home. When the jar filled with coins and bills, he emptied for his grandchildren (11 when he passed) to split up at a family gathering. It made for a fun event, and provided the kids with some spending money.
Ron won a lot, but did his share of losing, too. But he didn’t remove his losses from the jar. That wouldn’t be his way.
RIP, Ron.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Smith's slap on wrist a surprise

Eric Smith's slap on the wrist for calling wife killer Stephen Grant a "sociopath" before his conviction was surprising to some legal observers -- not because of this penalty for this minor transgression, but because some believed that the state Attorney Grievance Commission may have been looking at Smith for two other incidents.
Some suspect Smith may have been targeted for his comments and actions involving now-retired judge James Biernat Sr. because Smith in September 2008 made disparaging comments about the judge, helped encourage a rally outside the county courthouse and vowed to never approve plea deals in Biernat's court. Smith retaliated against Biernat for the judge's reversal of the first conviction of Michael George, the infamous comic book store murderer. The Macomb County Bar Association formally chastised Smith.
Or he could have been looked at for something he did two years later. The prosecutor days before the November '10 election left a phone message for Jim Perna of Clinton Township -- who was running against Smith's brother, Bob Smith Jr., for a seat on the county Board of Commissioners -- that contained vulgar language in response to a political mailer that attacked Smith's family. The public's reaction to that incident was mixed.
There has been no word of a probe in either situation by the commission, which keeps its investigations secret but will make them public if it forwards a formal complaint to the state Attorney Discipline Board.
Patrick McGlinn, senior associate counsel for the commission, told me Wednesday that the commission is not currently reviewing any complaint against Smith. He could not say whether the commission had reviewed any additional incidents in the past.
We may never know.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Not your father's James Biernat

This isn't your father's James Biernat. Nor is it his father's.
Judge James Biernat Jr. in his relatively short time on the bench at Macomb County Circuit Court has shown a different judicial demeanor and style than his father.
The elder Judge Biernat was very deliberate and thorough in commenting on a case or talking to defendants from the bench.
His son, let's just say, is more off-the-cuff, unless he's an Oscar-winning caliber actor.
Most enjoyably, he's caustic, making his comments to defendants entertaining for courtroom observers and hopefully constructive for his targets.
He's very sarcastic, challenging defendants with rhetorical remarks such as, "Is this your plan?" "Are you just going to get back out and do heroin again?" "Do you want to spend the rest of your life going in and of prison?" 
As one attorney said, he sometimes adds some subtle bottle language to emphasize his point, with head-shaking mannerism you might see from Tyra Banks or from one of the Housewives of Atlanta.
It can make a wait for a case seem a little bit shorter for those in his courtroom.