Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Family bar owners admit to deleting income information

Family bar owners admit to deleting income information

A father and son, who own three bars in the Grand Rapids area, admit to allegedly having deleted income information.

"On September 23, 2015, Michael Farah and Brian Farah called the POS administrator a second time, and told them they wanted to make sure that the files were deleted 'and they could not get any of the information,'" Stiffler wrote.
"Michael Farah stated that their goal was that no one would be able to retrieve anything from the computers or the POS administrator."
An IRS agent met with the Farahs on the same day. The Farahs did not mention that the records had been deleted.
Brian Farah, in his plea agreement, admitted that $232,000 was not reported on business tax returns in 2013, and $176,000 was not reported in 2014.

Article here via

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Jessica Heeringa case: five witnesses take the stand

Jeffrey Thomas Willis, 46, of Muskegon Township, has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Jessica Heeringa, who went missing from a Norton Shores gas station April 26, 2013. Willis also faces a kidnapping charge in the case of a 16-year-old who claims he tried to abduct her in April 2016, and a murder charge in the June 2014 shooting death of Rebekah Bletsch.

Article here (via 

MILegalize files in US Supreme Court over denial of ballot petition in 2016 election

From a press release of the MILegalize office:

The MILegalize United States Supreme Court Petition for a Writ of Certiorari was filed yesterday. It will be in the docketing system in a week or so after standard security delay and processing.  MILegalize will make an official announcement with more details in the next few days after SCOTUS provides a docket number. Attached is an electronic copy of the filing. 

The state has been served with notice. Once a docketing number is issued third parties seeking to file amicus briefs have 20 days to request permission from the parties. MILegalize welcomes amicus briefs from anyone supporting this important battle to protect both petitioning and voting rights and sensible cannabis law reform. The case may set groundbreaking national precedent for both First Amendment rights and cannabis reform as an early test of the Trump administration and a new Supreme Court bench.

The case raises First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection violations due to the gross injustices perpetrated by the Secretary of State, Board of Canvassers, and Bureau of Elections in refusing to process MILegalize's 354,000 signatures submitted for the 2016 election. The Petition seeks a declaration that both MCL 168.472a, the "rebuttable presumption" law and a 1986 Board of Canvassers policy are unconstitutional for placing undue burdens on the initiative petition process, and asks the Court to remand the case with an order to fairly canvass and qualify MILegalize's petitions for inclusion at the next regular election -- the 2018 gubernatorial race.

In this time of grave threats to the integrity of our democratic republic, MILegalize remains committed to fighting for cannabis reform and for protecting the fundamental rights of all Michiganders-- most importantly herein, our imperiled petition and voting rights, the very essence of government by We the People. The refusal to respect such rights by the State of Michigan requires supervision by the Highest Court in the Land. While the likelihood of the Court granting certiorari on any petition remains low, MILegalize made a commitment to the People of the State of Michigan it will not break-- we will fight as long as it takes for our Freedom. 

We continue to Demand that the Legislature Respect the Will of Michigan voters and enact the MILegalize plan immediately during lame duck, and also repeal all restrictions on the right of the People to petition, most especially PA 142 of 2016. As the likelihood for anything sensible out of this Legislature is slim, MILegalize is also gearing up to launch another petition in spring of 2017, MILegalize2018. Learn more at

Monday, December 5, 2016

Officer chooses not to give breathalyzer to Kent County prosecutor

GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Grand Rapids police are reviewing an officer's decision not to give a breathalyzer test to a Kent County assistant prosecutor who struck a parked car going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Article here. 

The crash involving Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuiper happened about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19 on Union Avenue at Avalon Terrace, south of Fulton Street. A person who was getting items out of the other vehicle had minor injuries and was taken to Mercy Health St. Mary's hospital for treatment.

He was later suspended from work, and asked to take a substance abuse evaluation. 

Did you know? Michigan was the first state to support the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition

Michigan, in 1933, was the first state which voted to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.

Prior to that, even possession of small amounts of alcohol in Michigan was a felony. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Art of Getting Clients to Pay

If someone doesn’t replenish a retainer after it runs out and you continue to represent him or her, thinking that the person will eventually pay, you’ll probably wind up doing the work pro bono even if you didn’t intend to . . . .

Article here (via abajournal) 

Bar passage rates: the ABA approves a 75% passage rate for schools to receive ABA accreditation

The American Bar Association body that accredits law schools voted on Friday to tighten the bar exam-passage standard that schools must meet in order to get the organization’s accreditation blessing. The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar overwhelmingly decided to strengthen its bar pass standard for accredited law schools—a long-debated move proponents said is necessary to ensure law schools don’t admit students unlikely of passing the all-important attorney licensing exam.
The council voted for the stricter standard over the opposition of diversity advocates who warned that schools with large numbers of minority students could lose their accreditation and that the stricter rule would prompt schools to admit fewer minority students. That, in turn, would exacerbate the legal profession’s longstanding diversity problem, they argued.

Article here (via taxprof blog).

Changing times: Immigration in Michigan up 11% since 2010

An estimated 652,090 Michigan residents -- about 6.5 percent of the state's population -- were born outside the United States, according to an estimate released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau.

That's up 11 percent from the 587,787 foreign-born residents recorded in the 2010 Census.

Article here (via mlive). 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Headline News: good-bye to Nancy Grace as "true-crime" host on HLN

Former Atlanta prosecutor Nancy Grace hosted her last true-crime show on HLN on Thursday.

Grace’s last show included clips from some of her most popular segments, including her coverage of the Casey Anthony case, the Associated Press reports. Grace ended the show by thanking her fans and saying, “It’s not goodbye, it’s just good night friend.”

Article here (via aba journal). 

Side note: Nancy Grace, and by extension, the Casey Anthony trial, and by extension Judge Tahvonen, all taught this write Evidence rules one sultry summer. Which I got an A in, but landed two points shy of the book award. //lawnerd alert! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Supreme Court might let immigrants (detained after September 11, 2001) sue US Officials

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other onetime government officials have immunity in suits by immigrants who say they were rounded up and illegally detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The court agreed to hear three consolidated cases brought by mostly Muslim immigrants who were in the country illegally. . . .article here (via abajournal.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Q & A: Renter's rights: can I break my lease early if I am in a domestic violence situation?

Q: Hi, I am in a bad situation. I started to let my boyfriend live here, and he's gotten into lots of fights with me that have turned physical. Once he gave me bruises on my face, it's been so bad that I am scare to come home. The problem is that I am on the hook for the rent, and he lives here now (even though he is not on the lease). I have started to think about getting a personal protection order on him, what else can I do? I don't want to break the lease.

A: Michigan law has already provided an answer to your situation.

You can find the relevant law here:

If you give written notice, with documentation (the personal protection order would be the best thing to show) that you're reasonably in fear of domestic violence, your landlord is required by law, to allow you to break your lease early. You will essentially be paying for your current month's rent, and 30 days after the written notice is given to the landlord.

I suggest that you do obtain the PPO, serve it properly on the boyfriend (this may require you hiring a process server, money well spent), and then giving a copy of it to your landlord.

Best of luck in your situation.

How to Fix Law School

What's the problem? The problem is that law schools keep having lower and lower enrollment (unless they are top tier schools). But at the same time, law schools are not actively changing how they do their jobs (again, for the most part.) . . . .

Law school needs to stop pretending they are selling some law experience out of The Paper Chase and that they are in the business of training lawyers so they can get jobs.

 I'm glad law school professors have such a love of the law that they teach and have tenure.

Most of us practicing law in the "real world" don't have that luxury; it's hit a certain billable hour requirement or brief requirement or die. 

Article here (via taxprof blog).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Creepy clown sightings spread, police departments issue warnings

The creepy clown craze has spread to metro Detroit and in several instances has gone beyond creepy to criminal.

In any case, police aren't

Two Detroit area police departments are investigating what could be related armed robberies at three stores within 90 minutes Tuesday night by a hooded gunman wearing a scary clown mark.

Article here (via the freep)

Side note: even if a person dressed as a clown merely "hovers in the background," he or she could be charged with criminal trespass, among other

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Legal procedure: service on foreign defendant via Twitter OK'd by Federal court

A federal magistrate judge in San Francisco has approved service of a lawsuit via Twitter on an overseas Kuwaiti national accused of helping fund ISIS.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler allowed the Twitter service in a suit by the nonprofit St. Francis Assisi . . .
Side note: usually rules of service are governed by the rules in which court the suit is filed -- for example, a suit in Michigan's Circuit Court would be governed by the Michigan Court Rules. In this case, it's in federal court, so it is governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 

If a plaintiff needs to serve a defendant notice of a suit, the rules tell the plaintiff how to do that properly. Typically, the rules will allow for service on a defendant's attorney, or at their address via certified mail, or through a process server. If the plaintiff can't serve the defendant in a typical fashion, he or she must request that the court allow for an alternative service method. 

Beeler said service via Twitter is not barred by any international agreement with Kuwait, and it is reasonably calculate to give notice. “Al-Ajmi has a large following on Twitter,” Beeler wrote, “and has used the social-media platform to fundraise large sums of money for terrorist organizations by providing bank-account numbers to make donations.” His Twitter account is active and he continues to use it, she added.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Q & A: Driver's license Restoration in Michigan

Q: Three years ago, I had a DUI in Michigan. It was a second offense for me, and my license was suspended, I think indefinitely. Can I get my license restored?

A: Probably. It depends on when the most recent conviction was and when you're able to apply.

Michigan controls the driving privilege through its Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will automatically suspend licenses for drivers who have two or more alcohol-related convictions.

First, you will need a copy of your driving record from any Secretary of State office (it was $8 the last time I checked). An attorney can help you review the record to see when you are eligible to apply for having your license re-instated. The record will clearly state the reason you were revoked/denied, and when the application can be made.

The second step is to start talking with people who know you to see if they are willing to submit a letter with your application, showing why your driving privilege should be restored. These are treated like character witnesses in your application, and the secretary of state treats them very seriously. They are referred to as "community proof of sobriety" in the application, so I suggest you take them seriously as well. It's best if you have at least 6 of these letters, and they will need to be signed, dated, and notarized. I prefer if the authors of the letters are people who have known the petitioner for many years, and have seen the progress from "drinking was a problem" for the petitioner, to "it is no longer a problem" for the petitioner.

You will also need to schedule a substance abuse evaluation and have a drug and alcohol screen done. This is further proof to the secretary of state that your behavior will not cause a concern when or if your driving privilege is restored.

Important note: Here's the thing: none of the materials in your application can be more than 90 days older than the date on which you submit the application. So that means that if you submit the application on August 1, nothing in the packet can be dated before May 3 (which is 90 days before August 1). So pay attention to how much time it is taking for the evaluation, and for friends to write their letters.

Have your attorney send his or her contact information to the evaluation center, and to your friends, so they can send the material directly to the attorney. Your attorney should review the materials with you before submitting to the secretary of state.

There is no charge for submitting the application.

Next, the secretary of state will respond with a hearing date. If you are an out-of-state applicant, there is no requirement that a hearing be scheduled. Again, your attorney will get notification of the date and get in touch with you. It's best for the attorney to prepare with you before the hearing, as the hearing officer will ask you a lot of questions as to why you were suspended/revoked, and how you have changed your life since then. If you are not able to satisfy the hearing officer that your behavior does not pose a threat to other drivers, you might not succeed at the hearing.

Do not expect a decision at the hearing. Although it is possible for a hearing officer to restore full driving privileges at the hearing, it does not happen very often.

The hearing officer will eventually issue a decision that either restores full privilege, restores a partial privilege (like using an interlock device for a year), or continues the suspension.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Law Professor and Journalist collborate to hold police accountable for actions

“I think this will be our Ferguson.”

Sitting in his office at the University of Chicago Law School just over a year ago, attorney and professor Craig Futterman was talking about a video almost no one had seen. It was a dashboard-camera recording of a white Chicago police officer killing a black teenager.

The details, then still unconfirmed, rang with an ominous echo of the police shooting of Michael Brown, whose death in a Missouri street sparked weeks of protest.

Futterman, who runs the university’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, hadn’t seen the video yet either; but he’d been pushing the city to make it public for months, ever since a confidential source had called and described it to him. “An execution,” Futterman’s source had called it. He searched for his own words. Finally he said simply, “This kid, his name is Laquan McDonald.”

Article here (via abajournal). 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Man asked neighbor for help in disposing of a body

DAVISON TWP., MI -- A 68-year-old man was arrested after he told his neighbor he killed a man, tried to cut up the body and needed help disposing of it.

Details emerged Wednesday, Sept. 7, during a preliminary exam in the case against Michael O. Murphy.

Murphy, 68, is charged with first-degree murder, felony firearm and disinterment of a dead body for the death of 31-year-old Daniel Parks.

Parks' body was discovered April 5 in a shed near Murphy's home at Davison East Mobile Home Park in Davison Township.

Murphy's neighbor, Duane Morrish, testified he was visiting Murphy in April when the man tried to recruit him to help dispose of a body.

Article here (via

Friday, September 2, 2016

Marijuana supporters petition Michigan Supreme Court to allow ballot in November

Believers in the right for Michigan voters to decide whether or not the state should legalize recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older are taking the fight to the state's highest court.

MI Legalize, the group behind the effort to place a question about legalizing recreational marijuana use on the November 2016 ballot, filed a motion for the Michigan Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's ruling that the state has no obligation to count all of the the submitted voter signatures.

Read the article here (on

Friday, August 26, 2016

Free Family Law Seminar: August 29, 2016 (continues monthly)

Tuesday, August 29, 6pm-7:30 pm. Room 107, East Grand Rapids Community Center, 750 Lakeside Dr. SE.

Topics covered: Divorce with minor children: filing the Complaint, requesting temporary relief, planning for your judgment of divorce.

Attendance at this seminar does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Call for details, or to RSVP, as space is limited. 616-406-6451

6th Circuit: Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act violates Ex Post Facto clause

Yesterday a federal appeals court ruled that retroactive application of Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) violates the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws. In doing so, it offered a scathing assessment of such laws that suggests they make little sense even when they're constitutional.

Article here. (via 's Hit and Run blog)

 Responding to a challenge brought by five men and one woman who committed sex offenses before Michigan's legislature expanded SORA's requirements, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit concludes that the added provisions, although framed as civil regulations, are mainly punitive in their effects.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Retired police officer wants to withdraw earlier plea on multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct

He entered a guilty plea, now says he wants to withdraw the plea, since he claims his lawyer coerced him into pleading.

Article here (via mlive).

Routine paperwork uncovers facts: Bar association president didn't have a license to practice law

If Greg Jackson hadn’t taken his routine paperwork seriously, a former county bar president might not be facing sentencing on Tuesday for the unauthorized practice of law.

Jackson had been assigned to compile a list of the two dozen members of the Huntingdon County Bar Association in Pennsylvania shortly before Christmas 2014. He was listing the lawyer names along with their bar numbers when he noticed that a former county bar president, Kimberly Kitchen, appeared to be using the bar number of another person—a lawyer in Delaware.

Article here (via aba journal) 

Freddie Gray case: law professor files ethics violations

Remember Freddie Gray? He died as a result of police custody.

A public-interest law professor is filing complaints seeking the disbarment of two prosecutors with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office for actions in the prosecution of police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Professor John F. Banzhaf III of the George Washington University Law School said the complaints with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission are against Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe. He alleges they failed to present enough evidence to support even bringing the prosecution. Last month, Banzhaf filed a similar complaint against their boss, State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, the Sun reported at the time.

Article here (via aba journal) Sorry! Posted earlier without the link (needs more coffee). 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Multiple shootings alleged in Berrien County Courthouse (St. Joseph, Michigan)

Police were rushing to investigate a report of multiple shootings early Monday afternoon at the Berrien County Courthouse in downtown St. Joseph.

A law enforcement official said he did not know who or how many people were injured  but it was feared that some employees of the Berrien County Sheriff's Office may have been injured.

Article here (via mlive.) 

Update: the three who were killed were two bailiffs at the County Court, and the inmate. Inmate was in handcuffs and got the gun from a bailiff. Inmate was not thought - due to prior court appearances - to be violent.

Suspect in terrorism case allegedly also plotted to kill judge in his terrorism case

An inmate in Toledo, Ohio, awaiting trial on a charge of providing material support to terrorists has been charged with plotting the contract killing of the federal judge overseeing his case.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Yahya Farooq Mohammad, 37, is accused of offering to pay an undercover agent for the slaying of U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary, the Toledo Blade, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) and the Columbus Dispatch report.

Mohammad is a citizen of India who studied electrical engineering at Ohio State University, according to the Dispatch. He was extradited to the United States from the United Arab Emirates last year and accused of conspiring to travel to Yemen to provide cash for terrorism.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Are forced urine samples unconstitutional? South Dakota case illuminates the issue

A lawyer who is arguing his client’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated by a forced urine sample is shining a light on the practice by police in South Dakota.

The lawyer for Dirk Landon Sparks is asking a judge to toss the test results used to charge his client with felony drug ingestion, the Argus Leader reports.

The lawyer, Jeremy Lund, argues in a May 16 motion filed in Hughes County that the judge who signed a search warrant for a blood or urine sample didn’t authorize Sparks to be strapped to a hospital bed and a catheter to be forced into his penis.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Q & A: Real estate purchase and zoning laws: can the township authority make me do this?

Q: My mom has some acreage (not much, actually, less than ten acres). She wants to sell me a parcel of her property so that I can build on it. I live in a crummy area, there's a lot of drug dealers around me. I want to build on that land I'm buying from my mom, and bring my kids to that school district too, which is better for everyone. The land has always been in our family, and probably always will be. The problem is that it is zoned agricultural. I have also heard that the township won't let land be parceled smaller than 8 acres in that area. Can the township authority do that, stop me from building because it's zoning it that way? Can they stop my mom from selling to me based on the size of the parcel?

A: Probably, the township authority can do that. 
Your questions center on the area of real estate law, specifically zoning, and the validity of zoning laws.
The thing is that governments (in this case, the township authority) is not supposed to interfere with property rights. Property rights loosely means you can use your property (the land your mom wants to sell you will become yours) however you want to use it. This right to use the property usually applies to how it is sold, legally this is referred to as making property "freely alienable," or easily sold, given away, etc. Governments are not supposed to do things that make it hard for you to use or sell your property.

However, since the area is zoned agriculturally, it may present a barrier. The problem is that the zoning law is usually upheld - this means that townships like yours can (usually) show that there's a community interest in keeping things the way they are - if it is zoned as agricultural, it may have to stay agricultural. That is, unless, you can show (through an appeal to the zoning board before the property is sold to you) that the continuance of zoning is unreasonable because there is no possible way for the property to continue as agricultural use.  The best fact you have going for you in this scenario is that the parcel she has already is sort of small (for agricultural use), but does that mean that it wouldn't ever be useful as agricultural again? That's what a zoning board of appeals would have to decide.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Old news! But changes still to come: Michigan's Indigent Defense Commission: What's happening?

Gov. Snyder (back in 2013, see the article here, which is why I listed this as "old news") signed a bill to allow the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The problem is (or was) that depending on where a person got in trouble with the law, the standard of how that person was defended by a court appointed attorney could vary widely.

(A Defendant can always 1. go without representation and act as his or her own attorney 2. hire an attorney, or 3. request that the court appoint an attorney if that defendant can show indigence (poverty).)

The MIDC has so far adopted standards for the attorneys chosen to serve on CA lists, which can be seen here. Other news available on the website.

The more exciting part of this legislation is that it is expected to increase the amount of cases where a defendant is represented. That's good because people are less likely to plead away their rights, if once made aware of those rights!

FOIA requests: chipping away at government's culture of secrets

Happy Independence Day! 

On Independence Day 50 years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson reluctantly signed into law the Freedom of Information Act. President Johnson thought it was terrible legislation and considered a veto after it was passed by Congress. He signed the bill into law on his Texas ranch instead of at a celebratory event at the White House.

Johnson’s comments at the low-key signing ceremony at the ranch illustrated his mixed feelings about the new law. “I signed this measure with a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society,” he said. “I have always believed that freedom of information is so vital that only the national security, not the desire of public officials or private citizens, should determine when it must be restricted. At the same time, the welfare of the nation or the rights of individuals may require that some documents not be made available. As long as threats to peace exist, for example, there must be military secrets.”

Article here  (via aba journal).

As a side note: I use FOIA requests a lot - sometimes for police reports (depending on the police department, it may be required), utility companies, etc. It's fun! You have rights, protect them!

Does the "epidemic" of teen sexting need a new law to govern it?

Teenagers who share sexual images through texting – commonly referred to as "sexting" – are committing criminal acts that could land them in prison for 20 years or more.

That's because creating photos and videos of teens falls under Michigan's child sexually abusive material law. They also could provide evidence of first degree criminal sexual conduct, punishable by up to life in prison.

And because cell phones are considered computers, sexting can draw added punishment as much as 20 additional years -- for using a computer to commit a crime.

Article here (via mlive). 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Federal drug administration told the DEA about marijuan's use as medicine (or not) - but won't tell the public

Asked recently for an update, DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne told VICE News, "We don't have a timeline on the decision."

The attorney general and DEA have the final say on rescheduling, but the FDA offered its official stance on the issue at least eight months ago, according to the agencies' joint letter to members Congress, which said the DEA received the FDA's input sometime prior to September 30, 2015. Neither agency, however, is currently willing to reveal what the FDA thinks ought to happen.

Article here (via VICE News.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One year (almost) post-Obergefell and states are still unsure which laws to enforce

The Obergefell decision made same gender marriage legal in all states. But what about issues like divorce, death of a same-gender spouse, and so on? 

 Obergefell didn’t foreclose debate on the multitude of legal issues that arise from marriage.
“I felt that once there was some U.S. Supreme Court case or national recognition of marriage that didn’t have any loopholes, everything would be fixed,” Stanley recalls. “But Obergefell didn’t change the fact that existing relationships have been through a roller coaster of legal possibilities, and all those things are playing into cases at dissolution time.”

It’s not just during breakups that these issues are emerging. They’re surfacing when babies are born or adopted, when spouses pass away, and when all the other life events that affect families take place.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Dylann Roof (remember him?) has his federal hate crimes trial scheduled first - why?

State prosecutor Scarlett Wilson criticized the federal court system during a hearing Monday, saying it is circumventing South Carolina’s trial of Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old white man accused of fatally shooting nine people at a historic black church in Charleston in 2015.

Roof’s federal trial is set for Nov. 7—about two months ahead of the state trial, set for Jan. 17. According to the Post and Courier and the Associated Press, Wilson said the survivors and family members of the victims would be forced to spend the holiday season in courtrooms.

Article here (via aba journal). 

It is a jurisdictional question - and also a punishment question. On jurisdiction: shouldn't the state have precedence to try him for murders first? And on punishment: federal courts typically don't sentence a death penalty sentence, so isn't the federal trial going first a little on the lenient side (possibly)? I say there's another issue: If he's found guilty first in federal court, the guilty verdict at the state level seems a foregone conclusion. State prosecutor also argues the sympathy side of things: if the federal trial begins when it is supposed to, victims' families will spend all of the holiday season in court rooms (typically not a cheerful place).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Michigan's House of Representatives proposes an Act regarding public restrooms

It is proposed but has not been voted on yet, by Michigan's House of Representatives. HB 5717.

From the Michigan Legislative Service Bureau website.

New Michigan laws : Revenge porn bill is now law

PA 87-88 Increases penalties for assault and battery of pregnant woman

PA 89-90 Revenge porn bill is enacted

PA 91 Provides for alternate service of legal papers when person is protected by PPO

Article here (via the Freep)
From the article:

LANSING — Nearly 150 bills were signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder during the second quarter of 2016 dealing with everything from protections for victims of stalking and domestic violence to more mundane bills dictating what color flashing lights can be used on snow plows.

The new laws for domestic violence victims will: make it easier to process and serve notice of personal protection orders, require judges  not to let actions taken by a parent to protect their children from possible violence from another parent color their rulings on custody cases, and prohibit custody or visitation for a parent who is the perpetrator when a child has been conceived through sexual assault.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Marijuana licensing bills (HB 4210 & 4209) tabled until Fall 2016

Medical marijuana regulation bills proposed in Michigan's House of Representatives will not received a vote, though one was intended this past week.

The bills (HB 4209, 4210, and 4827 respectively), would regulate the legal sale and use of "medibles," or non-smokable cannabis, among other areas of licensing. 

In its place, the votes are intended to happen in Fall 2016.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ann Arbor no longer proposes drinking ban for pedal trolley tours

The city of Ann Arbor is now leaning toward continuing to allow alcohol consumption on pedal trolley tours of downtown.

The City Council debated a proposed set of regulations Monday night, voting 8-3 to strike language that would have prohibited alcohol.

That marked a change from last month when the council voted unanimously to give initial approval to an ordinance banning alcohol on pedal trolleys.

Article here (via mlive). 

Side note: I have done the pedal trolley, and it's very fun, but very exhausting. Intersections where before you had never noticed a slight incline seem almost impossible. But I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Interesting result to new gun law means some prisoners may have early release

FLINT, MI – More than a dozen Flint-area federal inmates convicted of gun crimes could be released from prison early following two recent Supreme Court decisions that changed laws calling for increased sentences for career criminals.

At least 16 people have filed motions in Flint U.S. District Court since the beginning of the year asking for their federal prison sentences to be reduced following the Supreme Court cases that impacted the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Article here.  (via mlive). 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Michigan Bar Exam February 2016 results by name

The results of the passers of Michigan's February 2016 Bar Exam have been released.

See list here (via Board of Law Examiners).

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Q & A: I want to appeal a decision the court made in my case. But I am short on funds. Can I wait a while to appeal?

Q : I want to appeal a decision the court made in my case. My attorney says it's an issue that's subject to appeal. But I am short on funds to pay my attorney. Can I wait a while to appeal? 

A: Probably not.

You do not state in your question in what area of law your case was. Your question does center on the area of Procedure (whether Criminal Procedure or Civil Procedure). Evidence law may also come into play here.

In general, an option to appeal a decision is limited - in more than one way. First, only certain issues will be considered relevant to an appeal. This is sometimes a question of law (what prior cases have held), and other times a question of fact (whether the judge left out certain evidence, denied a motion, etc.) If it's an evidence question, a transcript of the earlier hearing may need to be reviewed, to see what was done in court, and on the record.

Second, and more importantly in your case, an appeal is limited in time.
Court rules limit when an appeal can be done. It is typically 21 days (under MCR 2.119 (F), and MCR 7.205 (A)) after the entry of an order in a case. This means that once the order is signed (entered) by the judge, your "clock" begins ticking.

I understand that attorney fees are expensive. If you wait too long, your appeal "window" will possibly close forever. This means that you will have to live with the decision that was made in your case.

However, it may be possible to wait a little while - up to six months  possibly, if you can show the court (through an affidavit, best presented through your attorney's representation) that there was a very valid reason why the appeal was not filed within the original 21 day window. This is what is known as a "delayed application for leave" to appeal.

Please give your attorney as much time as possible to begin that appeal. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Minnesota proposes the PRINCE Act to preserve rights in a name, etc. after death.

An 11th hour piece of legislation prompted by Prince's untimely death on April 21 was introduced today in the Minnesota state legislature. The Personal Rights in Names Can Endure Act, or PRINCE Act (we see what they did there), aims to protect multiple aspects of an individual postmortem, including name, image, voice, and signature.

Article here (via Vice Magazine).

The bill, if enacted, would grant extended publicity control to heirs of Prince's estate and limit outide use of his name and likeness in commercial pursuits. Rep. Joe Hoppe, who introduced the PRINCE Act, called it an attempt "to recognize the right of publicity postmortem." Though the bill's supporters cite the artist's death as direct inspiration for the proposal, its protections would apply to all Minnesotans, not just celebrities, and apply for 50 years following an individual's death. It would also apply retroactively to those who died before its signing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Q & A: My son's dad and I broke up. I never want to deal with him again. Can I get him to sign off his rights to our son?

Q : My son's dad and I broke up. We've been living together for 5 years, and our son is 3 years old. I never want to deal with my ex-boyfriend again. Can I get him to sign off his rights? 

A: A lot of people have the interesting idea that it's an easy process to change another person's rights to custody, simply because that parent doesn't want to continue any relationship at all with the other parent.

Your question focuses on Family law, specifically child custody, parenting time, and child support.  One thing to keep in mind is that Family court is a court that sits in equity. Equity doesn't mean everything is split down the middle, but rather that the court make a decision that's fair to both parents.

If there are no court orders in place, and the couple is not married, the court will place primary physical custody with the mother. The unmarried father will have to assert his right to parenting time, but also be willing to take on the support responsibility, even if no support is ordered.

If either parent has applied for or received State Assistance in the state of Michigan, the office of the prosecutor (in the form of that county's Friend of Court offices) will begin a support action regardless (as the Assistance is paid by other tax payers, the support at that time is to re-imburse the state for that Assistance). The good thing about an action started by the FOC is that it also allows for a father to have reasonable parenting time.

A court will not let a parent "sign off" his or her rights without also making a decision in the custody matter. This goes back to the equity idea: it's not fair to take away one parent's rights simply because the other parent is tired of dealing with him or her.

Ask yourself, as a parent, if "signing off" is what is really best for the child. It's understood that these matters are full of emotion, but it's best if the child has a continuing relationship with the other parent, and that the child will get support financially from that parent as well.

Also, without evidence to the contrary, the court will presume that having a relationship with both parents is in the best interest of the child. The court will do what it can to encourage that relationship through its orders.

If you have other questions, please seek a private consultation with an attorney to determine a legal course of action.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Q & A: Drinking and driving and marijuana use (Novel thoughts in the law: If it's illegal, you can get in trouble. And even if not illegal, too.)

Q: I was arrested for drinking and driving, blew a .10, and have been able to get a plea deal for driving while impaired, instead of the higher charge. But the thing is, I was tested for use of marijuana at a later alcohol and substance abuse assessment. I have been working on getting a card for medical use of marijuana but it hasn't happened yet. Why did they test me for THC? This charge had nothing to do with that.

A: They tested you because they can, and because marijuana use is still illegal. Sorry, but even when you are showing that you may have a medical need, but your medical marijuana card isn't issued yet, the court may order you to test "clean" or negative for any other substances (including alcohol) during the period of your probation.

An alcohol and substance abuse evaluation is often part of the sentencing process. It's a report that is later given to the Court and Probation department, and it can be quite influential regarding your sentence.

Let's face it, taking care of your legal problems should be foremost in your mind right now. So take your time with the evaluator, and don't feel like it's an inconvenience. Spending time in jail or on community service are inconvenient as well.

The evaluator may also ask questions about your family life, whether your parents had alcohol or drug problems, and other questions that don't seem particularly relevant to why you were pulled over. Sorry, but that's  part of the assessment as well, and gives a clearer picture to the evaluator as to whether you may be at a risk to re-offend. A second evaluation may also be part of the sentencing and probation process, nearer to the end, to show that you're improved over the term of probation.

The test, for which you tested positive, will possibly be re-administered between now and the end of your probation. Today's test will be used as a "baseline" for the THC that's in your system, and as long as you're ordered to test, that level needs to go down in your blood, otherwise you may be facing a violation of your probation - no laughing matter. It means that the underlying sentence from the drunk driving charge may actually happen to you, even if it was pleaded out in court.

And here's the novel thought in the law: If it's illegal, you can get in trouble. If it's not illegal, but it is part of your probation conditions, you can also get in trouble. So that means that you might be restricted from all alcohol use as a term of your probation, even though alcohol is totally legal, it currently isn't legal for you, because of probation. Likewise, talking to someone is not a crime - but if there's a no-contact order as part of your probation because of alleged domestic violence, then talking to that person is illegal for you during the term of your probation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Job postings: How to look for work

Job searches are almost all online now, and that's fine. The thing is that you have to know where to look. Here's some good websites for jobs in various areas:

This is the City of Grand Rapids' employment listing.

Here is the State of Michigan's listings.

This is USA jobs, working for the US government.

This is the State of Michigan, specific to employment in the Courts. (but not necessarily as a lawyer, for example Information Tech for the courts, etc.).

Kent County's website. - the nice thing about Indeed is the jobs are searchable by income, job title (not just description), etc. etc.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Legal research: for Michigan bar members only

In case you really need to find an opinion issued by Michigan's court of Appeals, or Supreme Court, where do you go?

Aha: The state bar's website has a searchable feature for the e-journal, and it is located here. 


1 in 10 Michigan children have a parent who's incarcerated

One in 10 Michigan children have a parent who has been incarcerated, an often traumatic event that can lead to increased poverty, stress and family instability, according to a report released today.

The report, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that 10 percent of Michigan children have a parent who has been in jail or prison. The data only counts children whose incarcerated parent lived with them at some point. It does not include children with a parent who was incarcerated prior to their birth.
Article here (via mlive).
Michigan is in the top three of states nationwide for this statistic. 

The equivalent of a legal TED talk topic: Should non-lawyers be allowed to own law firms?

This is the equivalent of a legal "TED talk" topic: what is the future of the legal profession? Will it stay its same old way, stodgy and traditional, or will it start to change?

It's currently against the rules of professional ethics that govern lawyers for a non-lawyer to own a law firm. Most states also bar law firms and non-lawyers from sharing or splitting fees.

This is starting to change, with some states allowing fee sharing, also known as multidisciplinary practice, but overall, not OK.


An ABA commission is seeking comments on an “issues paper” examining ethics rules that bar nonlawyers from owning and managing law firms.
The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services “revived a contentious debate” on the issue with a request for comments, which are accepted until May 2, according to the ABA BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct.
The commission is asking whether it should make a recommendation to the ABA House of Delegates regarding the ethics rules that bar nonlawyer ownership, according to the article. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and ethics rules in most states bar nonlawyer ownership.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ignition Interlock cuts repeat drunk driving in half, according to report

Let's say you're a driver who has had a prior drunk driving, and then gets a partial driving privilege restored. That partial privilege usually comes with the requirement that the vehicle be operated ONLY when an ignition interlock device is installed. The device requires that any driver "blow" to show that his or her blood alcohol content is accepted before the car can be started. 

The 61st District Court in Grand Rapids is among five courts involved in a pilot program that began in 2011. The devices, which prevent a driver's car from starting if his or her blood-alcohol content is above a certain level, are also used in Kalamazoo, Oakland, Grand Traverse and Marquette counties.

The Michigan Supreme Court this week released a study evaluating five years of the project, saying the devices have helped put repeat offenders on the track for success. 

Article here (via mlive). 

Revenge porn bill proposed by Michigan Senate

Revenge porn - when an ex lover has intimate photos of a lover and decides to publish those images in revenge when the relationship goes sour - may be illegal soon in Michigan. That is, if the bill proposed by Michigan's senate becomes law. (Please note: It's already illegal if the alleged victim is under age, because that falls under the child porn laws, which would necessarily have a sex offender registry requirement, aka SOR).

The text of the bill can be seen here on the Michigan Legislative service website. (which, as I have mentioned before, contains all sorts of information on Michigan laws (those that are already law, and those that are proposed.))

The bill will make it a misdemeanor to "disseminate" sexually explicit visual material on a computer, network, or other electronic device or medium of communication, when the person who's image is being disseminated did not consent, is being threatened, coerced or intimidated by those images, and is more than 18 years of age. A second offense under this bill is still a misdemeanor, just with a higher fine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Common law marriages in Michigan (Novel notes in the law, part 42)

Q: My niece was living as a girlfriend to this man who passed away last week. He said he wanted to make sure she was "taken care of," while he was going through his last illness. He even told his best friend the same thing. They lived together for 7 years, or maybe more. Now that he's died, his family is kicking her out of their house, and telling her that she should be gone in 14 days. I thought that there was common law marriage in Michigan, so she should be covered as far as "being taken care of," am I right?

A: No, you are wrong. Your niece's situation presents three issues in three areas of law: 1. Family law 2. Probate Law and 3. Landlord/tenant law.

1.  Family Law.
It's a myth that there is any common law marriage in Michigan. It has not been a part of Michigan law for decades. As of 2011, there are only 16 states which recognize common law marriage. Michigan has not recognized common law marriage since 1957, so unless your niece has been with her boyfriend since then (7 years = no), or had the common law marriage recognized in a state which does allow common law, then this relationship will not give her status as next of kin, spouse, etc, as far as having any rights to the estate, or the house, etc.

But: Had the niece actually gotten married to the boyfriend this situation would be totally reversed, as she would most likely inherit the property, have the right to stay in the property, and share in his estate as spouse.

2. Probate Law / Estate Planning.
Telling someone that he wants  to "take care of her" when he is gone is not the same as having created a valid will or trust in Michigan which benefited your niece. The only way to make sure that someone is provided for out of the estate is to place those intentions IN WRITING (I can't emphasize that strongly enough), and observe the proper formalities of writing a will in Michigan (signed by the testator while in the presence of two witnesses). A verbal expression to anyone about how one's assets should be distributed means nothing, I am sorry to say.

3. Landlord/Tenant Law. 
I imagine that there was no lease from the owner of the property to the niece. In that situation, the law would treat the niece most likely as a month-to-month tenant. In that case, the family of the deceased should treat her as if they were the landlord, and give her proper notice as to when she should vacate the premises. This is done under the Summary Proceedings Act, which is designed to quickly restore the property to those who have rightful ownership (more information can be found here ). Most likely, the family of the deceased will need to give a 30-day Notice to Quit to your niece). 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Retired US Tax Judge indicted for tax fraud - $400,000 worth

U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota today announced a federal indictment charging Diane L. Kroupa, 60, and her husband, Robert E. Fackler, 62, with conspiring with each other to evade assessment of taxes. Each defendant is charged with conspiracy, tax evasion, making and subscribing false tax returns and obstruction of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit. The defendants are expected to appear later this week in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Article here (via taxprof).

"Mr. Social Security" is accused of defrauding the government in scheme

The defendants are accused in an alleged conspiracy that defrauded the Social Security Administration out of more than $600 million in disability payments with the use of false medical documentation.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Job opening? Sort of - an opportunity to take an exam for Administrative Law Judge

Want to be an ALJ (Administrative Law Judge)? Sure, we all do. (If you are lost on the TV reference to the early 90's, I apologize).

Anyway, if you're a licensed attorney with at least 7 years experience, apply to take the ALJ exam! Details here.

Man says undercover officers beat him unconscious: Civil suit against police

A 23-year-old man says he was tackled and choked unconscious by undercover officers who were searching for a fugitive in Grand Rapids.

Article here (via mlive). 

James King claimed he thought he was being mugged when a plainclothes Grand Rapids Police detective and FBI special agent asked for his identification and held him against an unmarked SUV on July 18, 2014. He said didn't know the men were law enforcement.

King, who wasn't the man police were seeking, says he tried to run but was assaulted during a chaotic, confusing scene described in a lawsuit filed Monday, April 4, in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. King is represented by attorney Patrick Jaicomo, of the firm Miller Johnson.

King, who was charged in the earlier incident and found not guilty, was previously a GVSU student.

On a side note: this case brings up the legality of whether police can be videotaped during the course of their jobs. One of the officers allegedly involved in Mr. King's arrest asked that bystanders delete any video they may have captured with their cell phones.

This article (from 2012) says that "Slowly but surely the courts are recognizing that recording on-duty police is a protected First Amendment activity. But in the meantime, police around the country continue to intimidate and arrest citizens for doing just that. So if you're an aspiring cop watcher you must be uniquely prepared to deal with hostile cops." Michigan does allow recording of police - this doesn't mean that it will make the police who are being recorded very friendly to the subjects who are doing the recording. Or that it will prevent any charges from being filed - even in connection with the recording, such as disturbing the peace, obstruction of officers, etc.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pre-trial "freeze" of assets violates the 6th Amendment, says Supreme Court

Imagine if you will: a person who is suspected of a crime, and may have had some income from that crime, is being investigated as a suspect. Federal authorities were allowed to "freeze" that suspect's assets, including bank accounts, and other things. It was essentially a way to make sure the asset (if connected with the crime) would not be used by the defendant, in case there was restitution ordered (or so a prosecutor would argue). 

A federal law that allows courts to order pretrial freezes on assets that are untainted by crime violates the Sixth Amendment rights of defendants who are unable to pay their lawyers, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-3 decision.

The court ruled (PDF) Wednesday on behalf of Sila Luis, who was charged with Medicare fraud. The government obtained a pretrial order freezing $2 million in assets in hopes of preserving the money for restitution and penalties. The order was obtained under a law that allows pretrial freezes on assets that are tied to a crime, as well as assets “of equivalent value.”

The “equivalent value” provision is unconstitutional to the extent it prevents the defendant from paying her lawyer, the Supreme Court found.
Article here (via aba journal). 

Decline in law school enrollment leads to "survival of the fittest," according to law prof

Thinking of law school in the Midwest (aka "Rust Belt" states?) Your potential law school is working hard to get your tuition dollars, and that is because enrollment in law school is way, way down.  Some law schools have opted not to admit students for certain terms (in other words, forcing a larger class in September and January, but have no new students in May). Others have lowered admission standards, and some have done both.

Article here (via aba journal).

Many law schools in the region (of the "Rust Belt") are trying to survive by admitting larger numbers of lesser qualified applicants, theorizing they need to hold on until conditions return to normal. But the new normal consists of “shrinkage, adaptation and inter-law school competition that is likely to become even more challenging over the next five to 10 years,” Barnhizer writes.
Barnhizer cites six “critical factors” affecting law schools. They are:

1) The Great Lakes and Midwest region is economically depressed. Any partial recovery “will fall short of recreating the base of manufacturing activity that produced a strong upwardly mobile middle class of the kind that sustains high-level educational activity.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tax time quiz: Are you likely to be audited?


Sorry,  I didn't mean to scare you.

Something to think about when you file your taxes: if you have something that the IRS might ask questions about, do you have a reasonable explanation for it? Maybe you do, but think about the possibility of being audited.

This article (via taxprof) talks a little about who is likely to be audited: typically the highest and lowest earners.

Something else to think about: maybe you know someone who hasn't paid their taxes. You might be able to get an award for letting the IRS know that he or she hasn't filed. It's called a whistle blower award. The catch is that you might have to wait years to get the award. More information here. One more catch: you need to give information that's more than just a hint, or suspicion that someone isn't paying.

Texting while crossing the street should be a crime, says NJ legislator

Walking while talking or texting on a cellphone can be dangerous, a New Jersey state assemblywoman says.

So Pamela Lampitt wants her fellow lawmakers to make distracted walking a crime, with the same penalties as for jaywalking.

Article here (via aba journal). 

Teenager to be tried as adult for alleged murder of another teenager

One of the two teens suspected in the killing of Michael White, 16, of Wyoming, is being charged as an adult, authorities said.

Carlos Delgado, 15, of Kentwood, is charged with open murder and will be tried as an adult, Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Vicki Seidl confirmed Wednesday, March 23. He was arraigned that morning in Wyoming District Court, she said.

Article here (via mlive). 

Related: Michigan has more juvenile life sentences than any other state.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Facing a misdemeanor? How serious is it: potential penalties from misdemeanor charges

The thing is that a lot of commercials for criminal defense use a "scare tactic" to try and influence you. You know, like the "you just blew $10,000" billboard (which isn't even done by a defense attorney!) But it you are pulled over for driving under the influence (or OWI, etc.) it can be a misdemeanor.

So what does the term "misdemeanor" mean? Why is that different from a felony? Will a felony always be treated as a federal crime?Are misdemeanors not serious at all? Can a felony have a lower penalty than a misdemeanor?

The answer is: it depends.

A misdemeanor can have a variety of penalties attached to it. Same thing for a felony.

Misdemeanors are separated into types. Some types are for violations of a local ordinance. Others fall in the 93-day category, which means the judge can't sentence beyond 93 days in jail, and/or a $500 fine (plus court costs). Other misdemeanors are less than one year. The more serious misdemeanors (called high Court misdemeanors) can have up to 2 years as a possibility. As a result, these are transferred to Circuit Court, as the judges in District court can't sentence that much time (hence the name "high Court"). 

Examples of 93 day misdemeanors are assault and battery, driving under the influence (first offense), and retail fraud. Examples of one-year misdemeanors include larceny (property valued at $200 or more but less than $1,000), retail fraud in the second degree (shoplifting), and intentional discharge of a firearm (but without intent to injure). High court misdemeanors are punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine up to $2,000, or both. High court misdemeanors include indecent exposure and negligent homicide (by vehicle).

Can a misdemeanor have a higher penalty than a felony? Yes, but only in some circumstances. The thing is, the circuit court judge may have a higher sentencing ability (beyond a year), but that doesn't mean that the judge will use the maximum sentence every time. The district court judge, on the other hand, can still go up to one year. So for example, let's use a defendant who is charged with DUI second, which can have a year penalty. District Court judge can give that guy up to a year  in jail, and very well might. Same defendant a few years later would face a felony charge of DUI third, which can go much higher, from 1 to 5 years. But that higher judge might be sentencing less than the district court judge. Just because the higher judge can sentence higher doesn't mean he or she will. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Michigan Driver's responsibility fee is being phased out!

Legal FYI: The driver's responsibility fee is being phased out. If you had a driving conviction, Michigan's Secretary of State would charge a fee related to the conviction, to stretch two years after the conviction.

But now, the law is changing. Starting this year, the fee goes down, then next year the fee is only half of this year, and after that: No more fee!

See related information here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Considering law school? Want to be a lawyer? Consider this: Which schools charge the most and the least

Columbia University’s law school had the highest annual tuition among 99 private law schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

The law school charged $62,700, according to U.S. News & World Report. The lowest-cost of the 99 private law schools, on the other hand, was Brigham Young University’s Clark Law School, which charged only $23,940. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints got an even bigger break; they were charged only $11,970.

Article here (via ABA Journal). 

Also consider: Before law school.  To enter law school, one has to take the LSAT, a test that's given a few times a year, and get a score that's considered acceptable. You will also have to finish undergrad studies with a fairly decent GPA (although some schools accept "provisional students" who do not have an undergrad degree. Those schools put provisional students on probation until their GPAs show that they can cut the mustard in law school).

Some schools also offer partial tuition scholarships based on the score from your LSAT, and your undergrad GPA.

Graduating from law school. Next, you will have to get through the school's required courses, usually consisting of subjects like Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Taxation, Research and Writing, Advanced Writing, etc. etc. (My school required Taxation, and Secured Transactions, often these are not required at other schools). There is usually some level of performance-type classes, like Trial Skills, or Pre-Trial, too. There are other "exciting" elective courses as well, like Moot Court, Family Law, No-Fault Law (have I scared you yet?), Insurance law, and so on. Your school will have a minimum number of required classes, and after that you are free to gambol on the fruited plains to choose your electives. Beware: electives tend to influence you one way or another toward what fields of law you end up practicing.

Applying for the Bar Exam At some point while you are getting your last few semesters finished, you will need to decide where you'd like to practice, and begin applying to those state bars. Several states (Florida, New York, California, for example) have quite strict admissions requirements, and need longer times to begin the process of applying, so don't wait too long.

Applying means telling that state bar  two things: 1. "I want to take your bar exam on ___ date," and 2. "I haven't done anything to disqualify myself from practicing in your state." The second one is also referred to as Character and Fitness (C &F).

Getting through C&F is no joke: It's like the longest and most detailed job application you have ever done. You have to disclose to that state bar any criminal activity on your record, what happened in undergrad and law school for discipline (if anything). It may also include disclosing your job history, your addresses since you were 16, and any number of things. My advice is to always disclose - with explanations. I know people who are now practicing who had criminal convictions before law school, but they disclosed, and explained how things happened, and why this didn't disqualify them from practicing.

Bar Prep. Then you prepare for the exam, and hope that the C&F application is approved. Some takers will use a bar prep course, others will not. I know people who have passed on the first try without a bar prep class (though they are rare). Bar prep is offered by companies like BarBri, Themis, at a cost to each student (scholarships may exist). I used BarBri, and thought it was overpriced, and offered very little "hand-holding" as I prepared. But I did pass my first time.

The exam will consist of every subject you ever took in law school, or almost.  There's a multiple choice portion, the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), and an essay portion (except in Wisconsin). Michigan's exam, for example, tests the MBE (which used to be 6 subjects but is now increased to 8), and the essays (which can be on 23 possible subjects, but only tests 15 subjects). Depending on your state's bar, there may also be a portion of "performance" on the exam (MPT). Most states have a 2 day exam, others have 3 days.

Then you wait to see if you have passed, once you pass you can be sworn in, and get your license! Congrats you have made it!!

Child Support modifications and arrears: A Michigan Family law Primer

Q: I've been making my child support payments, but sometimes I can't pay the monthly amount due. What happens now?
A: That amount you didn't or can't pay will become an arrearage.

First of all, the obligation to support a child is with both parents. The Michigan Child Support Formula considers the amount of time each parent has with the minor child(ren), the income of the parties, and other factors when calculating support owed. Typically, the custodial parent will be paid support, and the non-custodial parent will be the payor of support, but this isn't always the case, since it depends on income, number of children, and other factors.

Support will typically be ordered during the pendency of a divorce or custody case (before judgment is entered), or if either parent is receiving state assistance. After the judgment is entered, an adjustment may be made to the support amount, and a new UCSO (uniform child support order) will be issued.

Q: What if I think the amount ordered should be different? I can't pay what I currently owe. 
A: You can request a modification of the support amount through Friend of the Court, or through an attorney.

Either party - the parent who pays, or the parent who receives support  - can request modification, if that parent can show a change in circumstances.

Statutes provide a low threshold for modification, based on circumstances of the parents or as the benefit of the children require,[1] upon proper application to the court and due notice to the opposite party,[2] and for proper cause shown or change in circumstances.[3]

A change in circumstance is a fact-based question. It could be the parent has changed jobs, has a medical concern and can't work, and so on. Also, the Friend of the Court can request a modification of the support amount.  

A parent who's income changes should notify Friend of the Court of this change, whether requesting a modification or not. 

Otherwise, if no parties request a  modification, a support review will be done typically every three years. 

Q: I requested a modification and the Court agreed with me. What's next? Will this take care of the arrears I owe? 

A: The modification has to be made into an order. Your attorney can prepare that, or Friend of the Court will send you a copy eventually if no attorneys are involved. 

But typically modifications do not address arrears - they only modify the amount of support going forward.  (This is also referred to as "no retroactive modification of support," see MCL 552.603 (2)).

If the amount of arrears is owed to the other parent, it's possible that parent can forgive the amount of arrears owed. Talk to your attorney about that. If the arrears are owed because the state is involved, since one parent receives state assistance, then the county prosecutor would also be involved.

Q: The amount of arrears I owe is really high. Is there anything I can do about that?
A: Maybe. The Friend of the Court may let you ask for a payment plan on your arrears amount.  Talk to your attorney about discharge of the amount you owe. Again, the parent receiving support has to consent to this as well. 

Q: Can I go to jail for not paying the support amount?

Friend of the Court can enforce support orders through bench warrants, license restrictions (including recreational licenses), withholding tax refunds, among other means. Friend of Court offices can request through "show cause" hearings that the payor make payments, and explain why payments haven't been made, or go to jail. (These are also called OTSC hearings, short for Order to Show Cause).

In addition, the possibility of felony child support non-payment exists.That can happen when the amount owed is in excess of $20,000 (MCL 750.165). At that point, a warrant can issue to arrest the payor of support. Felony child support violations can carry a penalty of 4 year's imprisonment. No laughing matter. 

[1] MCL 552.17 (1): Divorce, separate maintenance, annulment.
[2] MCL 552.45:  Family Support Act.
[3] MCL 722.27 (1) (c): Child Custody Act.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Street Court: Grand Rapids's Mel Trotter hosting a Street Court tomorrow March 16

Mel Trotter Ministries is holding the next Street Court on Wednesday, March 16 from 9:30 – 11am.  8:30 is when the clients can come in and have their records looked up, etc.  The actual court starts at 9:30am with Judge: Michael J. Distel presiding.  Feel free to check this out if you would like to and have the time.

Mel Trotter Ministries is located at 
225 Commerce S.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Monday, March 14, 2016

Michigan Court of Appeals rules: Grand Rapids Noise ordinance is unconstitutionally vague

Attorneys for Tip Top Deluxe, a Grand Rapids bar that was cited for noise violations, argued police issued citations under a section of the Grand Rapids City noise ordinance that is unconstitutionally vague.

Judges at the state Court of Appeals agreed in an opinion released Tuesday, March 8.
The owners and two employees were cited under a city ordinance that reads:
"No person shall use any premises or suffer any premises under his or her care
or control to be used which shall destroy the peace and tranquility of the
surrounding neighborhood."

Article here (via mlive) 

Below is the analysis from the Michigan Bar's e-journal:

Issues: Municipal prosecution for the alleged violation of § 9.63(3) of the City of Grand Rapids Noise Ordinance; Constitutionality; Due process; Vagueness; People v. Lino; Grayned v. City of Rockford; People v. Howell; Vagueness of an ordinance prohibiting “annoying” passersby; Coates v. Cincinnati; Vagueness of an ordinance requiring the production of “credible and reliable” identification to police officers; Kolender v. Lawson; Vagueness of an ordinance prohibiting the use of “indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar, or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child”; People v. Boomer; “Disturbance” of the peace; Lansing v. Hartsuff; Whether the use of a reasonable person standard in a noise ordinance is sufficient to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice the conduct is forbidden; Plymouth Twp. v. Hancock; Whether a narrowing construction of the ordinance would render it constitutional; People v. FP Books & News, Inc. (On Remand)

Summary: Holding that the plaintiff-city’s noise ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, the court reversed and remanded for dismissal of the citations against the defendants-bar owners and employee.