With the August primary now behind us and the November elections looming forward, the big upset in Saginaw County centered upon the Saginaw County Prosecutor's race and attorney John McColgan, Jr.'s upset over 23-year incumbent Michael Thomas.
McColgan received 7, 819 votes over Thomas' 6,905 and arguably much of the shift towards McColgan derived from an aggressive and edgy marketing campaign waged during the final days of the election whereby he depicted former Saginaw News editor Paul Chaffee holding a martini and Assistant Prosecutor Howard Gave holding a bag of cash with the headline: Prosecutor Thomas: Special Deals for Special People.
The ad targeted Thomas for allowing a rare drunken driving plea deal for a civil infraction that Chaffee was given back in 2012 and turned the spotlight on Gave for receiving a retirement package from the County of $78,500 per year only to be hired back by Thomas at a salary of $65,000.
In a candidate forum published by The Review back in June McColgan criticized Thomas for adopting a hard-line no plea posture on drunk-driving cases as a result of being called out on the Chaffee deal, and went on to cogently argue how without plea-bargaining, the courts won't function through a cookie-cutter approach that treats all circumstances equally when the facts and principals in each case are distinct and unique.
However, by hinging a portion of his campaign upon the special deal given to Chaffee, the question turns now to whether McColgan has boxed himself into a difficult corner when it comes to navigating that important quality of balance that is a cornerstone of our legal system - or to adopt a Cartesian breakdown of the argument; if special deals for special people are bad; then the antithesis would amount to 'no special deals'.
Undoubtedly, the very nature of fairness & equity in our legal system is predicated upon balancing the unique circumstances of each case to a defined set of standards & principles. But now with the microscope focused into a 'no exception' posture when it comes to deal-making, the big question is whether this will de-facto inhibit McColgan from adopting the very rational position he assumed in our forum that the legal system needs to be fluid and not boxed into a fixed mandate of mandatory minimums and one-size fits all when it comes to sentencing.
In short, by adopting such a highly publicized moral posture on the issue of special deals regarding DUIL's, has McColgan now navigated himself into a narrow precipice on Mount Everest?
Consequently, apart from whether or not Gave will still be sitting in his Assistant Prosecutor position after the November outcome; this issue is certain to be one that both McColgan and his Republican challenger Matthew Frey will need to answer and rectify as we move into the November election.
Kelly vs. Czuprynski Update
On July 6, a visiting judge settled the suits between Bay City attorney Edward Czuprynski and Bay County District Court Judges Timothy Kelly and Dawn Klida. Czuprynski, who is challenging Kelly's seat on the bench in this fall's elections, had filed separate suits against the two judges over administrative orders that seemingly barred him from taking District Court cases slated to be assigned to Kelly or Klida while he was a political opponent of Kelly's and while he had active lawsuits against both judges.
Under the settlement, brokered by visiting Judge Mark Duthie, criminal defendants in District Court will be free to retain Czuprynski to represent them, given that they select him as counsel within 21 days of their arraignment. In these instances, Kelly or Klida would be required to recuse themselves and the case would be assigned to another judge.
While this is termed a “settlement,” the terms largely side with Czuprynski's argument that someone accused of a crime has the Constitutional right to select the attorney of their preference. Further, the settlement largely agrees with the concept that it is the judge who must recuse themselves in the interest of fairness.
The 21-day window is a common sense compromise, agreed to by Czuprynski, designed to limit the ability of a “difficult” defendant from delaying proceedings unnecessarily by attempting to hire Czuprynski at the last minute or once a trial is under way.
This order will stay in place until the November 6th General Election or until Czuprynski is no longer a political opponent of Kelly. But the ink had barely dried on the Czuprynski story when Bay County's corps of judges made it back into the news for unfortunate reasons.
On July 26th, Prosecutor Kurt Asbury, who was facing a contested August 7th Democratic Primary, was given the “first annual” edition of an award named for former judge Craig Alston. The award was ostensibly for Asbury's work in the establishment of a drug treatment court, an idea that has shown some dividends in its pilot stage in Bay County. Asbury accepted the award in an informal ceremony attended by Alston, as well as sitting judges Karen Tighe, Harry Gill and Dawn Kilda.
A lot of local eyebrows were raised over this award, especially its timing. Under Michigan Election Law, judges are barred from making endorsements in political contests and this certainly looked like an endorsement to many local observers.
The judges have subsequently indicated that they made the decision to make the award back in May, did not have the election in mind when they chose Asbury and don't consider it in any way an endorsement of Asbury as a candidate. In a Bay City Times interview, Patrick Duggan, who was Asbury's opponent in the primary, termed the timing “very suspect.”
Let's go ahead, though, and give the judges the benefit of the doubt and accept their explanation that this decision was made a long time ago and it wasn't meant as an endorsement. The problem is that alternative explanations aren't any more acceptable. If it was unintentional, what it would seem to demonstrate is a lack of awareness of the environment they are operating in and a lack of understanding of the potential impact of the words and actions of a sitting judge. It might make one question their judgment, period.
It is a shame that Alston is caught up in all this. He was, by all reports, a great judge and he continues to be a community role model in his retirement. The problem is this is an issue that should have never arisen. The ins and outs of partisan politics are not lost on this group, especially Kilda, who was a multi-term Democratic County Commissioner at the time she was appointed to a judgeship by former Governor Jennifer Granholm. Basically, if this was a mistake, it was a mistake of commission (giving the award), rather than omission (forgetting about that pesky election).
This is not to say that there should not be a drug court, that there should not be an award for service to the court, or that Kurt Asbury isn't the most obvious recipient of such an award. But given there is no Republican opponent in the November election the award should have been given after the primary. There was nothing special about the date and, even if the judges who made the selection didn't think about the election back in May, they had to be aware of it in July.
The real problem here isn't the award or the election or any of the individuals involved. The issue is one of culture. And in this culture, when we give people some of the most powerful jobs in town, they always seem to feel it's OK to take just a little bit more - whether it is the Czuprynski case, the Asbury award or any number of stories that have emerged over the last couple years, we seem to consistently be faced with another case of the leaders of our legal community overstepping their bounds. It needs to stop.
What we require here is a change in culture. As only one judgeship is being challenged in this election cycle, the fact is sweeping change is not going to come from outside the courthouse - at least not soon.
If we are going to get the culture we need and the local justice system we deserve, it is up to the sitting judges to take a hard look in the mirror before they head to work today and every day; because, if they believe we aren't noticing how they go about their jobs, they would be wrong.
If You Can't Say the Word, Can You Legislate Against It?
Remember those Michigan lawmakers who were silenced for saying the word "vagina"? The bill those women legislators wanted to discuss has passed the Michigan House and is now headed to the full Michigan Senate. If it passes and is signed into law, it will become virtually impossible to find a clinic in Michigan that can meet state regulations for performing abortions.
The bill is called HB-5711, and it would force women who have abortions to pay for the burial, cremation, or interment of any fetus 10-weeks or older, a first in the nation that would create unbearable costs for women, including those who have been raped. For fetuses at 20 weeks gestation, a death certificate must be obtained, subjecting the woman to potential public scrutiny at a time of private stress.
Additionally, any doctors who perform abortions would have to make costly and unnecessary renovations to their clinics -- even if they only administer the morning-after pill. The dramatic effect of all this needless regulation is the closure of most Michigan health centers that provide abortions, and the remaining ones will be forced to charge much higher fees for services that one in three women will need some time in their life.
The state Senate will consider this bill after it returns to session on August 15th. Under the bill, some physicians performing more than five abortions per month must carry $1 million in liability insurance. And it completely bans the best method for many rural women to access medication abortions through telemedicine practices.
Michigan women are already suffering from too few obstetricians and gynecologists4 -- especially in rural areas -- and if HB-5711 gets passed and signed by the governor, some doctors will quit providing abortions, leave the state, or simply retire.
The committee that considered this bill in the Michigan House heard testimony from 10 people. Nine of them were against the bill, including a board-certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist. Just one person testified in favor of the bill: the head of an anti-abortion group.
Despite this testimony, the committee passed the bill. And the fact that these requirements are directed only at clinics where abortions are performed, a procedure that is less invasive than many procedures done routinely in doctor's offices, shows that this has nothing to do with women's health or safety, and everything to do with politics.
Michigan's Clean Renewable Electric Energy Standard
There is an important proposal on the November ballot in Michigan that would add the new Section 55 to Article IV of the Michigan Constitution entitled Michigan's Clean Renewable Electric Energy Standard and mandate that beginning no later than 2025 at least 25% of each electricity provider's annual retail electricity sales in Michigan shall be derived from the generation or purchase of electricity produced from clean renewable electric energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.
The measure also states that this standard shall be implemented incrementally and in a manner that fosters a diversity of energy generation technologies and apply to any electric utility, municipally owned electric utility, or cooperative electric utility operating in Michigan.
Consumers shall be charged for electricity from clean renewable energy sources in the same manner and on the same basis as for electricity from other sources and to protect consumers, compliance with the clean renewable electric energy standard shall not cause rates charged by providers to increase by more than 1 percent in any year. Annual extensions for meeting the standard may be granted, but only to the extent demonstrated to be necessary for an electricity provider to comply with the rate limitation.
The proposal also calls upon the legislature to enact laws to promote and encourage the employment of Michigan residents and the use of equipment manufactured in Michigan in the production and distribution of electricity derived from clean renewable electric energy sources.
Not surprisingly, coal and utilities groups launched a deep-pocketed campaign last to defeat this November ballot initiative that would raise Michigan's renewable energy standard for utilities to 25 percent.
The coalition -- Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan -- has the backing of utilities companies DTE and Consumers Energy, along with the Detroit and Michigan Chambers of Commerce. Campaign filings show that a coal front group, American Coalition for Clean Coal, is also supporting the campaign against increased renewable energy for the state.
The industry-led group has raised nearly $6 million in its first few months, primarily from the state's largest utilities companies. By comparison, proponents of the renewable energy standard have raised only $2.2 million.
Consumers Energy and DTE Energy contributed most of the money. Each gave more than $2.9 million, either directly or through a parent company or subsidiary. DTE also made nearly $200,000 in in-kind contributions and Consumers gave $81,000 in in-kind contributions. DTE and Consumers both used shareholder dollars to fund the campaign.
This campaign is only the tip of the iceberg of what fossil fuel interests are spending this election cycle. ACCCE has a broad $40 million ad campaign this year, spending on ads like ones in May that accuse the Environmental Protection Agency of attempting to raise electricity prices.
Economically, the Michigan initiative makes sense -- the costs are much lower than anyone, even utilities, expected and the benefits abound. But the CARE campaign, helped along by none other than big coal, are looking to distort the broad, bipartisan support for renewables.