Saturday, June 20, 2015

Judge Cannot Repress a Motor City Original

Attorney Marvin Barnett
In the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, attorney Marvin Barnett is a fixture. He's been defending Detroiters accused of felonies in that building for three decades.

No stranger to federal court, Mr. Barnett was involved in a gun case in Ann Arbor a while ago. During the case, Barnett began to crank-up his usual righteous cross-examination when U.S. District Judge John O'Meara stated:
This dramatic, high voice, moving around, touching your client. It isn’t going to happen. You went into a whole series of pretty dramatic questions about what happened, who opened the door, who pulled it open. It had nothing, nothing to do with what this jury has got to decide and you’re getting back into some other areas. Now you are a very intelligent man and you know what I’m talking about and you know you’re going to be sanctioned if this continues so don’t let it continue.
Judge O'Meara, in front the jury, also characterized Barnett's requested jury instructions as, "a little bit of flim-flam", before telling the Motor City lawyer to "shut-up" during his closing argument. The judge also scolded Barnett that he was not listening to the court, and that Barnett was wasting the jury's time.

Perhaps the court's crowning insult to Barnett, however, was when Judge O'Meara belittled his theory of the case -that the officer involved had a reason to lie- as being outright "over-the-top mendacity".  In addition, when the jury sent out a note stating they were "hung" on the weapons charge because of confusion about the meaning of "reasonable doubt", the court instructed them to continue deliberating and provided this improvised instruction:
Reasonable doubt is something short of absolute certainty by some measurable distance. It means that if you have reasonable doubt, that there is no way a reasonable person can come to the conclusion that you need them to come to, to in this case find the Defendant guilty of two charges. 
While the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals characterized O'Meara as "fair-minded", they found his series of belittling remarks prejudiced the jury against the defendant and reversed his conviction last week, remanding the case to the district court for a new trial. In doing so, the Sixth Circuit also concluded that the lower court improperly improvised the definition of "reasonable doubt" following the jury's request to have that term better explained.

So now Barnett's client gets a second chance at acquittal. Most prosecutors would agree that giving Marvin Barnett a second chance is something to avoid.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Detroit in Mid-2015

Since 2009, our lawyers have been generating law-related blog content. This is our newest creation; the very first post of the Motor City Law Blog.

Our law firm has developed many blogs; some are theme specific covering topics like divorce and criminal defense; others cover broader topics of legal interest.

In this blog, all posts will have a visceral connection to Detroit. Detroit has been bashed, smashed and abused. Now there is nowhere for Detroit to go but up. One thing about this city is that it always holds its head-up high.

The last few years have brought Detroit to its knees financially and politically; this year, we emerged from bankruptcy; just a few years ago, we saw a former mayor sentenced to 18-years prison in federal court. A new mayor, Mike Duggan, was the first white politician to be elected mayor in Detroit since the mid-1960s; he was a write-in candidate.

With this first post, we wanted to take stock in Detroit by focusing on a few statistics unearthed during the focus on the bankruptcy of our fair city. We will then seek out stories of interest, always with some legal angle and hopefully of interest to our readers.

We promise to be short; we promise to be sweet. We will scour our news feeds for Detroit-related meat; we will post the information and serve-up our connection. Hopefully, this will be of interest to our readers. In doing so, it is our avowed mission to add value, however minuscule, to our fair city.

We cannot promise that all the posts will be positive as this is not a dreamer’s blog; this is a blog about an ancient gritty city situated along the banks of the Detroit River and placed at the heart of the Great Lakes state. This is a blog about a once and future world-class city with the blue-collar blood of the original equipment manufacturers running through its veins.

So here is one set of measurements of Detroit in mid-2015, as we take its volatile temperature in this first post:
  • When Detroit filed bankruptcy two years ago, it was $18 billion in debt, against only $1.5 billion in average annual revenue;
  • Of the $11.4 billion in unsecured debts, nearly 80% was for employee pensions and health insurance coverage;
  • The average retiree had an annual pension income of $19,000;
  • The average pensioner received a 4.5% reduction in their benefit, but a 90% cut in health care coverage;
  • Despite these reductions, 70% of the pensioners voted in support of the final bankruptcy plan;
  • Police response time, nearly an hour pre-bankruptcy, has been cut to 18-minutes -the national average is 11-minutes;
  • 2/3s of Detroit's ambulances were disabled on any given day; this has been cut to half of the fleet;
  • Despite a largely disabled fleet, since emerging from bankruptcy, the average response time for an ambulance is now about 12-minutes;
  • 40% of the city's streetlights do not function, with vandalism and age equally responsible;
  • 78,000 abandoned structures lie within the city limits, with an average cost of $10,000 to demolish a single-family residence;
  • homicides have fallen-off by 18%, with 72% of the cases getting closed.
No doubt, a tough road lies ahead. Stay tuned and lend a hand...