Monday, September 29, 2014

Smartphones and your privacy right - the FBI is concerned (but not necessarily in a good way).

The FBI states that it is "concerned" about Apple Inc.'s and Google's attempts to encrypt information on your smartphone, that will increase your privacy and and limit access to your data by outsiders.

FBI Director James Comey on Thursday said he’s bothered by moves by Apple Inc. and Google Inc. to market privacy innovations on smartphones that put some data out of the reach of police, saying agency officials have been in touch with both companies.

“What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” Mr. Comey said in a briefing with reporters, reports WSJ’s Brent Kendall.
Mr. Comey said he still wants to get a better handle on the implications of the technology, saying FBI officials have engaged in discussions with the companies “to understand what they’re thinking and why they think it makes sense."

Article here (via WSJ law blog). 

My take on this is that Apple & Google are thinking they are better off not getting sued by users (who could very likely join in a class action suit as well). So that they will wait to be forced to give up users' privacy until they must (probably through a federal court ruling).

Good news: You can opt out of Affordable Care Act. Bad news: the penalty is large ($12,000 for family of five)

For a family of five, the penalty could be as high as $12,240 for the 2014 tax year, experts say. And for many people, the penalty will rise sharply in 2015 and 2016.
The massive health-care changes passed in 2010 are phasing in, and this is the first year most Americans must have approved health insurance. Those who don't will owe a penalty under the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision. It's due with your income taxes, payable by April 15, 2015.
Article here (via taxprof blog). 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The State Bar of Michigan has a new president: Thomas C. Rombach

Last week at the State Bar's annual meeting, the 80th president of the State Bar was sworn in. His name is Thomas C. Rombach.

Mr. Rombach is a solo practitioner who focuses his practice on criminal and civil litigation.

Article here. (via State Bar of Michigan blog).

Mr. Rombach earned his undergrad degree at Michigan State University and graduated from law school at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Thomas C. Rombach, of New Baltimore, has been sworn in as the 80th president of the State Bar of Michigan. Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. officiated at the Sept. 18 ceremony, which took place in conjunction with the SBM Annual Meeting at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.
Mr. Rombach is a solo practitioner and focuses his practice on representing criminal and civil litigants.
- See more at:
Thomas C. Rombach, of New Baltimore, has been sworn in as the 80th president of the State Bar of Michigan. Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. officiated at the Sept. 18 ceremony, which took place in conjunction with the SBM Annual Meeting at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.
Mr. Rombach is a solo practitioner and focuses his practice on representing criminal and civil litigants.
- See more at:

Artprize 2014: Starting this week! Downtown Grand Rapids!

The Grand River during ArtPrize has been the place to see a mythical dragon, a herd of ghostlike horses, and an expanse of colorful banners fluttering in the breeze.

Now comes an adult-sized bunny as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner never imagined.

Article here (Grand Rapids Press via 

"The tricky thing was to design them in a way that they float and move around in the water," the artist, Alex Podesta, said.

Artprize begins Sept. 24 and runs through Oct. 12, at 174 venues in the downtown Grand Rapids area.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Did you know: In Michigan, the governor and legislature are exempt from FOIA requests

Michigan's FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) law, passed in 1976, is silent on whether state lawmakers are covered, but former Attorney General Frank Kelley, in a 1986 opinion, said "the Legislature has exempted state legislators" from the law. (For those laws where the legislature's intent is hard to interpret, the AG's office comes out with "opinions," also called OAGs, that will give guidance to the rest of the public.)

Combined, the exemptions for the governor and lawmakers make Michigan's open records law one of the country's weakest, in terms of who is covered and who is not.

Article here. 

Michigan's FOIA says the parts of state government it covers "does not include the governor or lieutenant governor, the executive office of the governor or lieutenant governor, or employees thereof."

Some records in the Michigan governor's office still must be released since the state constitution — which trumps the FOIA — says "all financial records ...and other reports of public moneys shall be public records and open to inspection."

But records related to the governor available in many other states — such as correspondence, reports, appointment schedules and phone records — are not available in Michigan.

(credit where credit is due: Blog article idea credit goes to attorney Carri Briseno.

It's hard to unseat a federal judge - they serve for life

“Federal judges have life tenure and the reason for that is to enable them to resist popular and legislative pressure,” University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman said. “There is a long history of popular calls for impeaching federal judges, though generally for their [legal] decisions.”A federal judge can’t be forced from the bench even if convicted of a felony, he added.

This quote comes in connection with Alabama Federal judge Mark Fuller being called on to step down after domestic violence allegations. 

Article here.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has reassigned Judge Fuller’s caseload. The judge agreed to undergo counseling and a drug and alcohol evaluation through a pretrial diversion agreement with a Georgia court under a  program that gives certain non-violent offenders an opportunity to avoid prosecution.  The charges will be dropped if he completes the program.

“This incident has been very embarrassing to me, my family, friends and the court,” Judge Fuller told reporters in a statement last month. “I deeply regret this incident and look forward to working to resolve these difficulties with my family, where they should be resolved.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Murder for hire in Traverse City: Clarence Gomery case update

Dale Fisher was straightforward as he approached Northern Michigan attorney Christopher Cooke July 12 with startling news.

"So, I've been asked to murder you and offered $20,000 to do it," Fisher says, as he opens a recorded conversation with Cooke.

Article here.  (via

The exchange was among several recently released by Grand Traverse County sheriff's authorities through a Freedom of Information Act request as a case against Gomery awaits trial in court. 

Gomery is jailed on a $5 million bond and is charged with soliciting murder and solicitation of a felony, because the crime involved carrying a weapon with unlawful intent.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Firing Squad bill advances in Wyoming (If lethal injection becomes unavailable).

A Wyoming legislative panel on Friday advanced a bill that would authorize the state to use a firing squad to execute inmates on death-row if prison officials fail to obtain drugs for lethal injections.

Article here (via WSJ Law Blog). 

Lawyer appears in Thomas Jefferson garb to defend his law license

A lawyer wearing a Thomas Jefferson getup appeared before the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday in a quest to retain his law license.

Lawyer Ira Dennis Hawver wore a powdered wig, 18th century suit and long white stockings as he argued that the First Amendment protected his unusual defense of a capital murder client, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

Article here (via ABA Journal).

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cool science news: Stonehenge was bigger than we thought it was

Today, the word “Stonehenge” evokes an image of an eerie stone circle standing alone on a windswept plane.

But new digital maps show the prehistoric monument didn’t always look that way. Those 24-foot-tall, 90,000-pound blocks we still find so impressive were actually part of a much larger complex of shrines — including an even-larger “super henge” nearly half a kilometer in diameter.

Article here (via Washington Post). 

Man faints after hearing 40-year sentence in courtroom

After 18 years in prison for murder, it is not clear what Paul White was expecting to happen after he pleaded guilty to three counts of armed robbery and bribing a witness.

But when Judge Mark Trusock told the 37-year-old he would not be eligible for parole until he was 77, White’s knees buckled and he hit the Kent County Circuit Court floor on Thursday, Sept. 11.

Article here.  (via

State Bar Annual Meeting: Next Week! Grand Rapids!

It's annual, it's big, it's the annual State Bar Meeting, and Solo and Small Firm Institute.

There is still time to register, go  to the state bar website. More information at SBM blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Law school hypotheticals, and "cautionary tales:" Do they make you freak out?

Oh yes, you remember this scenario. You're doing the reading for class (way ahead of time, of course, because you were a good law student). And part of the reading includes this hypothetical that seems, well, bizarre. There is no way, you tell yourself, that this is based on an actual case. But once you attend class, the professor tells you, lo and behold, it's based on a case the professor actually knew about! Sheesh, you tell yourself. How odd the real world is.

Fast forward to the next class, where the prof tells you that "It was a mistake in the brief" that caused this whole problem. Yikes, you think, I am going to be sooooo cautious once I get into practice.

Then fast forward to 2 years in the future. Law school is in the rear-view mirror, you passed the bar and are now practicing (gulp) law! And your mind is beset by those hypotheticals, and "cautionary tales" of what to do. And you're overcome by indecision and insecurity. What happened? You're supposed to be decisive and a natural leader once law school was over with.

Blame law school! Here's an article about how law school hobbles you for future practice.